Review of Earl Doherty’s Jesus: Neither God Nor Man chapter 8

After quite a long hiatus, I am now able to resume blogging my way through Earl Doherty’s book Jesus: Neither God Nor Man. The main focus of chapter 8 is the idea that Paul’s Gospel and the Jesus at its center was revealed in Scripture rather than in historical events such as the life of an actual historical human person named Jesus.

The chapter gets several things right and mentions important information about the context of earliest Christianity – and yet consistently manages to interpret those details as leading to mythicism. For instance, Doherty rightly emphasizes the importance and indeed centrality of Scripture for many Jews in this period, and that there were groups that interpreted prophetic texts as referring to themselves and their own experiences (p.84). The Qumran community are presumably the example par excellence of this phenomenon. Doherty somehow never seems to realize that, if the earliest Christians were similar, this would naturally fit a scenario in which they interpreted prophetic texts as referring to their own historical experiences, including of a historical Jesus. Part of the problem is presumably that Doherty has bought hook, line and sinker the Christian apologists’ claim that Jesus is predicted precisely in prophecy (p.86). Were this in fact the case, then it would be natural to suspect that Jesus was invented or at least radically rewritten to accomplish this precise agreement. But in fact, the agreement is far less precise than apologists would have you believe, and while critical scholarship has highlighted this time and again, mythicism shows itself to be uncritical and naive at this particular point.

A case in point is Isaiah 53. Doherty does not appear to have investigated the text in any detail, or even to have read it in a more careful manner than Christian apologists do. He sees, as they do, a precise prefigurement of Jesus, never mentioning that the servant in the “Servant Songs” of Deutero-Isaiah is explicitly said to be Israel, nor ever noticing that Isaiah 53 fits Christian interpretation of the significance of Jesus’ death, rather than the details narrated about that death itself, whether in epistles or Gospels. While Doherty reads Paul through the lens of Christian interpreters and thinks that he may have derived from Isaiah 53 the key elements of his Gospel, a critical reader would note the lack of explicit citations from or unambiguous allusions to Isaiah 53 in Paul’s letters.

Once again, mythicism is engaging the Jesus of Christian faith and apologetics, and thinking that it is dealing with the subject of the historical figure of Jesus.

Doherty also notes in this chapter that the Messiah was, in terms of the origin of the concept at least, a human figure. While Doherty rightly notes that some (most famously the Similitudes of Enoch) came to think of this figure as kept in heaven, prepared for the day of salvation, he wrongly assumes that this was at odds with or in contradiction to the expectation that the figure would appear in human history.

A more natural connection to draw between the background texts Doherty cites and early Christian texts would have been to understand the early Christians to have looked back and found their experiences and expectations for the future prefigured and predicted in Scripture.

Doherty repeats the common misunderstanding of Midrash as a firm of Jewish literature that combined Scriptural texts into a new narrative. I am going to venture a guess that Doherty has never read an actual work of Jewish Midrash. The ongoing perpetuation of this misunderstanding is unfortunate. If Doherty had wanted to find a parallel to the “discovery” of celestial rather than historical “realities” in Scriptures, he would have done better to spend less time discussing prophecies and misunderstanding Midrash, and instead focused more time on the Platonic allegorizing approach of Philo. The latter is a poorer fit with most of the New Testament, but at least Doherty would have chosen a cookie-cutter mould that was in the shape he was trying to force the New Testament evidence to take.

It is perhaps worth mentioning that the issues of whether Paul believed Jesus to have been a human figure who appeared in history, and whether he derived them from Scripture, are at any rate separable. Paul could presumably have derived belief in a human terrestrial Messiah from Scripture in the same manner that Doherty posits that he derived a purely celestial one.

There are many other problematic points that could be mentioned, including the claim that Jesus can be of the Davidic line in the celestial realm, but since Doherty once again inexplicably postpones his treatment of this key claim until later, I will do the same. So let me close by mentioning once again the dubious character of Doherty’s claim that “Jesus” was “an ideal and natural name for a savior deity” because it means “Yahweh saves” (p.85). This ignores (1) the fact that most Hebrew names had some such religious meaning and would have served equally well, (2) that this is a common human name and such names were not normally given to celestial beings, and (3) those who were most likely to care about the meaning “Yahweh saves” were those least likely to invent a “savior deity” other than Yahweh himself.

And so, once again, the only points that are accurate and/or of value in this chapter can be found in mainstream scholarship, not so unhelpfully obscured by being intermingled with error, misuse of terminology, and unpersuasive arguments as they are here.

[UPDATE: I decided to delete the original conclusion to this post and end it here instead]

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  • Mikew

    Will this be the first of 100+ comments? I hope not. Over the year I’ve been fed Doherty arguments piecemeal. These are some of the lesser ones. The Paul stuff is a bit tougher I feel. Here Doherty finds him self fighting earlier criticism that the so called prophecies are forced and twisted to fit Jesus. As some one who once thought the prophecies proved Jesus was Christ, and having been slowly forced to accept that logically this is not so, Doherty’s silly arguments to the contrary have no sway. for people unfamiliar with New Testament scholarship this will seem convincing since they still assume that the old prophets exactly predict Jesus 

  • Gakuseidon

    Once again, mythicism is engaging the Jesus of Christian faith and
    apologetics, and thinking that it is dealing with the subject of the
    historical figure of Jesus.

    Yes, I found the same when reading through Doherty’s book. Why address Christian apologetic arguments at all? It only adds to the length of the book, and I doubt that many peer-reviewed articles address apologetic arguments. It makes the book appear unscholarly.

  • Anonymous

    A case in point is Isaiah 53. Doherty does not appear to have investigated the text in any detail, or even to have read it in a more careful manner than Christian apologists do. He sees, as they do, a precise prefigurement of Jesus, never mentioning that the servant in the “Servant Songs” of Deutero-Isaiah is explicitly said to be Israel, nor ever noticing that Isaiah 53 fits Christianinterpretation of the significance of Jesus’ death, rather than the details narrated about that death itself, whether in epistles or Gospels.
    What then is the argued process by which a crucified criminal was identified so completely in the 1st and 2nd centuries with a prophecy from Isaiah 53? If every Jew of the time knew the simple facts asserted here, there could not have been a Christian reinterpretation. Yet obviously there must have been some ambiguity regarding the interpretation of the text of Isaiah 53 at the time or Justin would not have been able to quote so extensively from it in his Diologue with Trypho XII-XV. 

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    I have reponded in detail with my own review demonstrating with quotations from Doherty that McGrath’s sometimes asserts the exact opposite of what Doherty argues and completely omits 40% of the chapter that contains the most vital of Doherty’s arguments.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I took a look at your post and trust that, despite your lengthy attempt to distract from the key issues, a reader of both posts and of Doherty’s book who is approaching the matter in a serious, critical fashion will not be misled.

    Perhaps we can start with one specific substantive issue. Can you or any other mythicist find a reference work or scholarly source on Judaism which defines Midrash the way Doherty does, as including among its methods “the practice of taking individual passages and verses, bits and pieces from here and there, and weaving them into a larger whole” (p.86)? This is what mythicists time and again say that Jews did and that the creators of the figure of Jesus did and/or that the Gospel authors did. Perhaps you would care to be the first to provide evidence for this claim, and perhaps even an actual example of this sort of Jewish “Midrash”? That seems like it would be a good place to begin, if you really want to defend Doherty and mythicism (and perhaps also Spong), since it is Doherty’s claim that “Jewish midrash was the process by which the Christian recipe was put together and baked into the doctrine of the divine Son who had been sacrificed for salvation” (p.87). You said that I did not explain what was wrong with Doherty’s claim, and so I will say it again: what he describes is not a practice found in ancient Jewish midrash. My point is that there is nothing accurate in Doherty’s definition, which may perhaps have arisen from a misunderstanding of the definition of Midrash by Doherty or someone else who has never actually read any. Midrash includes commentary on Scriptural commands, often weaving verses from diverse sources into the discussion, and expansion on stories in Scripture in an attempt to interpret them and in particular resolve puzzling or difficult aspects. Neither of those is the creation of new messiahs or new narratives of any sort from a palette of texts. Would you care to show that there is something correct in Doherty’s definition?

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Can you find anywhere in Doherty’s chapter 8 where he defines midrash? What is wrong about what Doherty actually wrote and what I again quoted?

    “This could be one of the procedures in “midrash,” . . . . ”

    If that is at fault then explain how. If there is anything else wrong with what Doherty actually says then spell it out with a direct quotation and explanation.

    Will you also explain exactly what is wrong with Spong’s use of the word “midrashic” as he explains his use of it?

    I woud feel less like I am wasting my time in even responding here to this “substantive issue” — the only one you single out from my review of your post, and one that is a matter of semantics only (unless you can find Doherty saying the gospels really are as Jewish midrash as the midrash rabbah) — if you had not been so pedantic in our earlier disagreement over the term UFO. You refused to even allow for the normative cultural and dictionary variations in contextual meanings of the acronym. Can you assure me you are not being as pedantic again here?

    Is ‘midrash’ the only problem you have with my post? If so, can you explain with direct quotation of Doherty why this is a “substantive issue” in contrast to anything you omitted to discuss in the latter half of the chapter?

    Can you also explain why you only blasted Doherty with one of several scholarly interpretations of the Servant in Isaiah?

    Can you aslo explain why you inferred that the Similitudes represents “mainstream” Judaism of the Second Temple period?

    Will you explain why you resort to arguments from silence, and “but if” and “there is an alternative possibility” as if those are all valid means of overturning a reasoned and evidence-based argument?

    Will you explain why you said Doherty argues that Jesus is found prophesied precisely in the OT though (as I quoted) he says that the gospel of Jesus was NOT detailed in the OT — as Christian apologiists argue?

    What do you think of Lester Grabbe’s discussion about tones and standards of debate that we should expect from scholars? http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/pseudo-scholarship-such-comments-do-not-belong-in-scholarly-writing-or-debate/

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    OK, let’s see if I can get you to understand.

    On the Midrash issue, Doherty says that creating a new narrative from snippets of earlier ones is a kind of Jewish Midrash (see the quote I provided from him). My criticism is that he is wrong, it is not something that fits under the rubric of Jewish midrash. I gave this attention with good reason, since the procedure he identifies as a form of Midrash, and thus a known genre in ancient Judaism, is also what he claims the early Christians like Paul did to invent Jesus. So, again, what is precisely wrong with Doherty and Spong’s definition is simply that what they describe isn’t Midrash.

    My main points about the Servant in Deutero-Isaiah is that (1) it does not fit anything specific that Christians said Jesus underwent, but only their interpretation of what they said he underwent, and (2) Paul does not provide clear evidence of its importance to his understanding of Jesus’ death, and thus (3) Doherty’s claim that Paul derived the whole idea from there seems problematic. Since other NT authors apply Israel texts to Jesus’ life typologically, if Paul did in fact do so, I would at any rate still consider it to more closely fit the paradigm of other early Christian literature, applying texts to a historical figure typologically rather than inventing one from them using a supposed procedure of Jewish “Midrash.”

    I did not say that 1 Enoch is mainstream. What I pointed out is that Doherty assumes that it offers a messiah who never appears on earth in the same way he assumes that early Christian literature starts with a Jesus who was never on earth in human history.

    I realize I neglected to include another important criticism. Doherty’s reasoning is thoroughly circular. He keeps saying that the epistles contain nothing that requires one to understand them as referring to a historical Jesus. But he keeps postponing detailed discussion of the texts that sound like they do. And so unless one takes it on faith that later chapters will be persuasive in their treatment of this material, then Doherty is assuming what he has yet to prove.

    On the question of whether the Gospel was found foretold in Scripture according to Doherty, I found him to be self-contradictory and his point to be largely irrelevant. On the one hand, he says both that Paul and others found the basis for their beliefs in Scripture, and that Paul claimed his Gospel was a secret kept veiled by God and unveiled in Paul’s time, but also says that this revelation was not of a historical Jesus’ activities. He does not demonstrate this, and it seems to me ultimately irrelevant to his main mythicist point, precisely because the question of whence Paul derived his beliefs about Jesus and the question of whether he believed Jesus was a figure who appeared in history are separable issues.

    In relation to another thing you wrote in your post, I get that Doherty is suggesting something innovative. It is not that I cannot wrap my mind around it, it is that when I try to do so, evidence from ancient Judaism and early Christianity gets in the way. My only problem with Doherty’s book in particular, and mythicism in general, is its failure to make sense of the evidence, much less do so persuasively. And alas, in this chapter Doherty is still postponing discussion of the apparent counter-evidence to his view, while at the same time asserting that there is no such evidence worth speaking of. That procedure alone would make it hard to take him seriously, even without all the other considerations.

  • Earl Doherty

    Jim: “Doherty’s discussion certainly implies that he is fully aware that some Jewish groups clearly used scriptures to interpret their own historical experiences.”

    Which is precisely what I have presented Paul & Co. as doing. Scripture looked ahead to their own historical experiences. But what were those “experiences”? Their experiences were of the beliefs and revelations within their own community. That is the picture which the epistles present. Paul says it directly in Romans 1. The prophetic scriptures foretold the revelations from scripture which Paul and his contemporary apostles of the Christ were granted. They did not foretell a god-man redeemer who had lived in their recent past and performed his salvific acts on earth.

    Jim: “Doherty somehow never seems to realize that, if the earliest Christians were similar, this would naturally fit a scenario in which they interpreted prophetic texts as referring to their own historical experiences, including of a historical Jesus.”

    Ah, but…his “including of a historical Jesus” is something Jim has tacked on to serve his own preconceptions; it is never demonstrated in the epistolary texts. The ‘prophetic scriptures’ are never identified as a prophecy of events that had taken place in Jesus’ life on earth. No comparison is made between scripture and history, no equation of the one with the other. The equation is made between scripture and Paul’s preached gospel []about[] the Son, as in Romans 1 and in Hebrews, a Son and sacrifice that is never located at a time and place in history.

    McGrath claims that there is nothing in the Similitudes, in its portrayal of the Messiah/Son of Man waiting in heaven, to preclude the possibility of a career on earth. But that’s like saying that there is nothing in the Gospel story to preclude the possibility that before his ministry in Palestine started Jesus travelled to China and America. The point is, there is nothing in the record to suggest that he DID make such travels. If he had, and this were known, would we expect the early Christian record to contain no hint of such a thing? If the heavenly Son of Man in the Similitudes were known to have had, or was going to have, a career on earth, would the document contain not a hint of such a thing and merely forecast his arrival on earth to effect judgment on the ‘kings, governors and landlords’, much as the epistles foresee an arrival of the heavenly Christ at the Parousia to sit in judgment, and none beforehand in any other capacity or incarnation?

    And again, that same old bugaboo about not presenting every element of the evidence pro and con all crammed into one chapter (earlier it was expected, and criticized for being missing, in an even earlier chapter). A case in regard to anything has to be laid out piece by piece, hopefully in an order which makes sense of the whole and usually progressing from basics to more nitty-gritty. McGrath’s ‘objection’ that I am “apparently postponing discussion of counter-evidence to (my) view” is preposterous. We will see how he deals with coming material which will make much more demands on him than anything to date.

    And he steadfastly refuses to answer Neil’s insistence that he demonstrate how I have misused the terminology of “midrash”. That, of course, is because it is all bluster, as is so much of his supposed ‘counter-argument’ which has no substance to back it up. The same goes for his floundering about in regard to whether a passage like Isaiah 53 actually contains ingredients for the sacrifice myth of the Christ cult, as well as for elements of the Gospel Passion story. If ancient Christians themselves could see the passage as prefiguring Jesus’ experience, what does it matter whether modern theologians/NT scholars can pick holes in that process? We are talking about what the ancient first Christians did and how we can recognize that. Once again, there is no actual substance to McGrath’s criticism and his attempts to neuter my contention that Paul & Co. are dependent on scripture for their entire gospel about the Son go nowhere.

    GakuseiDon also chimed in with the same mantra:

    “Yes, I found the same when reading through Doherty’s book. Why address Christian apologetic arguments at all? It only adds to the length of the book, and I doubt that many peer-reviewed articles address apologetic arguments. It makes the book appear unscholarly.”

    To the extent that the early Christian process of deriving the Son from scripture mirrors the naivete and practices of modern apologists, it is anything BUT unscholarly to deal with that process. That it coincides with modern apologetics (and uninformed public faith, for the most part) is basically happenstance. Don actually is advocating that we do the very thing he is so adamant to condemn in my book: that I am allegedly imposing what “we” would expect on the ancients. And yet he wants me to address only what modern critical scholars have to say on the matter, and then somehow read that into the mindset and interpretations of the first Christians! That will really get us to the heart of those ancient beliefs, won’t it?

    And good ol’ Mike W. had his usual two cents as well:

    “As some one who once thought the prophecies proved Jesus was Christ, and having been slowly forced to accept that logically this is not so, Doherty’s silly arguments to the contrary have no sway. for people unfamiliar with New Testament scholarship this will seem convincing since they still assume that the old prophets exactly predict Jesus.”

    Of course, they didn’t “exactly predict Jesus,” and Jim (with Mike & Co. blindly in tow) misrepresenting me as claiming such a thing doesn’t make it so. Besides, as someone pointed out, early Christian commentators like Justin, along with the epistle of Barnabas and others, believed exactly that. The Jews’ failure to recognize Jesus as the Messiah predicted in scripture was (along with being “Christ-killers”) the basis of their condemnation. Isn’t that what we should be addressing, not the red herring of what modern New Testament scholarship can perceive? It would be like ignoring what the ancient Greeks believed for centuries about the Trojan War, based on Homer, and substituting what modern archaeology has revealed to arrive at the ancient picture of that War. Is that what you would advocate, Mike, and Don, and Jim, that we understand ancient Greek views of their own mythology according to what we moderns know about it and its basis? That we impose our modern post-scientific and post-enlightenment knowledge on what the ancients believed? (That is what I advised against in my book, Don, something you have consistently insisted on misunderstanding and misapplying.) What a bizarre suggestion!

    I will echo Neil and suggest that Jim really needs to present, accurately and honestly, what I actually argue in my book, not his preferred and distorted version of it which just happens to lend itself to his criticisms. But then, that’s what strawmen do so well, don’t they?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Earl Doherty, it is not a matter of your postponing things until later. It is a matter of your postponing something absolutely crucial to your discussion until later, and all the while asserting that there are no references to a historical Jesus in the epistles when you have yet to deal with the most obvious counter-evidence.

    Have you even considered the possibility that the Similitudes of Enoch envisage a Messiah who, as one would expect given what Messiah meant in the Judaism of this period, was expected to appear in human history in the future?

  • Anonymous

    Have you even considered the possibility that the Similitudes of Enoch envisage a Messiah who, as one would expect given what Messiah meant in the Judaism of this period, was expected to appear in human history in the future?

    Where in the Similitudes can this be found? I have just read through them and they seem utterly preoccupied with the heavens and stars and mansions in the sky and not at all concerned with any individual man living on earth.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I’m not planning on getting into another useless exchange with @beallen0417:disqus, but for the benefit of the discussion, here’s most of 1 Enoch 45 as an example:

    Heaven they shall not ascend, nor shall they come on the earth. This shall be the portion of sinners, who deny the name of the Lord of spirits, and who are thus reserved for the day of punishment and of affliction.
    3In that day shall the Elect One sit upon a throne of glory; and shall choose their conditions and countless habitations, while their spirits within them shall be strengthened, when they behold my Elect One, for those who have fled for protection to my holy and glorious name.
    4In that day I will cause my Elect One to dwell in the midst of them; will change the face of heaven; will bless it, and illuminate it for ever.5I will also change the face of the earth, will bless it; and cause those whom I have elected to dwell upon it. But those who have committed sin and iniquity shall not inhabit it, for I have marked their proceedings. My righteous ones will I satisfy with peace, placing them before me; but the condemnation of sinners shall draw near, that I may destroy them from the face of the earth. 

    It certainly doesn’t seem to me that recognizing that the focus of the Similitudes is on Enoch’s vision of the Messiah prepared beforehand in heaven, and on the eschatological role of the Messiah as judge, means we ought to eliminate altogether the fact that the author is still talking about the expected anointed one, i.e. descendant of David who would rule as king. 

    But like the New Testament, the Similitudes can be read in a wide variety of ways if one is willing to ignore considerations of context that might elucidate the meaning. When something is not mentioned at all it may be a noteworthy fact, but when something is mentioned little, it should be treated as evidence that either (1) that aspect can be taken for granted, or (2) that aspect is being downplayed, and not (as mythicists do) as an invitation to find a way of eliminating those few references so as to introduce a different meaning of one’s own choosing and preference.

  • Anonymous

    Yes, the Elect One will dwell among them while he changes the face of heaven, blesses and illuminates it forever. This doesn’t sound like any earthly Jewish human, regardless of how exalted they may be expected to be. The changes on earth that are subsequently mentioned mimic the changes to heaven the Elect One has made, but the Elect One is not placed on earth in the passage you quote, nor in the rest of the text I could see. I’m certainly not an expert and I am reading it in English. Since I don’t speak or read Coptic, Ethiopic or Amharic, I am open to the possibility that I am mistaken, however. 

    Dale Martin is clear that Jews and pagans in the 1st century CE thought that each nation had an angel who was it’s “ruler” so that if two nations went to war then the angels would also fight. Is he wrong about this? This seems to make quite a bit more sense of the passage and decreases the likelihood of an earthly individual being discussed.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Dr McGrath, as the Clarence L. Goodwin Chair in New Testament Language and Literature, will you advise me if you consider Dr Mahlon Smith, Dr. Jacob Neusner, Dr Gilat Hasam-Rokem, the authors of Midrash and Midrash Haggadah on the Jewish Encyclopedia, any of the authors cited in the Midrash bibliography at http://www.huc.edu/midrash/genstud.html, to be sufficiently scholarly and authoritative as sources of the term “midrash” and “midrashic processes”, and the range of genres and formats it embraced?

    You early input will assist me in my preparation of a post I am currently preparing.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Yes, Jacob Neusner in particular is considered a major authority on rabbinic literature, and many of the scholars represented in the bibliography have particular expertise in this area.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Dr McGrath, you have responded to beallen’s question, so will you kindly respond to my query and explain why you use the Similitudes as an illustration of mainstream Jewish thought as you said in your original post, and why you disagree with a number of your scholarly colleagues on this? (I am not suggesting it is wrong to disagree of course, but I am more easily persuaded if I hear a reasoned argument.)

    What is your view of Doherty’s statements in chapter 8 (I have quoted them in my own post) that he acknowledges that many Jews expected a human Messiah in history? Is that something he “got right”? And if so, can you explain why you seem to disagree with his claims that “mainstream” was not the only Jewish beliefs at the time?

    Further, what is the difference between your use of 1 Enoch 45 and, let’s say, the use of Revelation 21:22-24, to mean that Jesus will live a historical life on earth?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I am not presupposing that the Similitudes of Enoch were mainstream – I don’t know that we have the sort of evidence we need to say that they were or were not. But presumably what you are referring to is that I think that when a Jewish author uses a familiar term, such as anointed one, they should not be presumed to mean something completely different by that term unless they explicitly say so.

    Both 1 Enoch and the Revelation passage you mention are rather similar, in that both are focused on a Messiah who is eschatologically present. If we only had such passages from early Christians, we might indeed understand them to be speaking about a Messiah who has yet to appear. But we would still not understand them to be speaking of a purely celestial figure as an alternative to what the term “Messiah” meant in their time.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    McGrath wrote: “I am not presupposing that the Similitudes of Enoch were mainstream – I don’t know that we have the sort of evidence we need to say that they were or were not. But presumably what you are referring to is that I think that when a Jewish author uses a familiar term, such as anointed one, they should not be presumed to mean something completely different by that term unless they explicitly say so.”

    Neil: I am thinking of the commentaries that point to the anti-Temple perspective of the Enochian literature as one of several such indicators within the text to its non-mainstream status.

    As for the meaning of the “anointed one”, no, your ad hominem presumption is wrong. I am coming from the pesepctive of a layman who has read Fitzmyer’s, Charlesworth’s and Neusner’s and Thompson’s works and edited compilations containing a number of other authors such as Green et al. If you are seriously interested in a discussion or wanting to know where I am coming from then you might like to phrase a genuine question without innuendo.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    You seem to somehow have gotten the impression that, because there was diversity in the Messianism (and even the Davidic Messianism) of this period, therefore nothing that you or other mythicists say about messianism in this period could possibly be wrong.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    McGrath wrote: You seem to somehow have gotten the impression that, because there was diversity in the Messianism (and even the Davidic Messianism) of this period, therefore nothing that you or other mythicists say about messianism in this period could possibly be wrong.

    Neil: Thank you for the ad hominem barb again.

    As a teacher kindly tell me exactly what I have said that gives you that impression, and again as a teacher kindly quote for me what is mistaken about anything I have said about messianism. I am sure I have made mistakes so I am asking you to actually quote what I have said that is in error so I can learn.

    And also inform me whether anything you have said could possibly be wrong — and what in particular.

    I invited you to engage in mutual understanding through a sincere question without innuendo and you respond with an ad hominem barb. What do you think of Lester Grabbe’s discussion of ad hominem in discourse from and among scholars? http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/16/pseudo-scholarship-such-comments-do-not-belong-in-scholarly-writing-or-debate/

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Hmm, is this supposed to be an apology for your name calling in the past? If so, I accept. If you wish to clarify your meaning, I would be happy for you to do so, but if you do not, that is your choice. I can only base my understanding of your view based on what you have written in the past, unless you wish to spell it out clearly in the present.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    McGrath, I have attempted to engage you in the past many times with genuine discussion yet you have constantly retorted with replies couched in presumptions that are inappropriate and inaccurate. I have sometimes responded with offence. You have also said that you were prepared to cease from unscholarly posts about mythicism and to use a tone and language appropriate for an academic. I am willing to engage in sincere discussion without rancour, to put all the past behind us, and to discuss issues in a genuine spirit of intellectual inquiry without pre-judging the other. Are you willing to do the same?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Sorry, our comments seem to be passing each other simultaneously. I am happy to try to improve the tone of our interaction.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    I have no meaning to clarify. (Unless you can point to the source of your innuendo that my understanding was wrong or bad.) I was simply asking questions.

    “What is your view of Doherty’s statements in chapter 8 (I have quoted
    them in my own post) that he acknowledges that many Jews expected a
    human Messiah in history? Is that something he “got right”? And if so,
    can you explain why you seem to disagree with his claims that
    “mainstream” was not the only Jewish beliefs at the time?”

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I have no meaning to clarify (unless you can point to the source of your innuendo that my understanding was wrong or bad).

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    So you won’t answer my questions?

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    I am confused by your last comment. Has something been lost from what you originally wrote? I have not asked you to clarify anything. What is my innuendo? Is this your attempt to improve the tone of our exchanges? If so, then it appears that you have your mind mind made up that there is nothing honest or upfront that can come from me at all. Is that the case?

    Are you saying you have no intention of addressing me without pre-judgment no matter what I ask you or say?

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    I hope I am mistaken but if you are indeed set on pre-judging me do tell me exactly what it is that I could do or say that would change your mind? If you are imputing unwarranted motives into me is it because I am an atheist? argue sometimes in support of a mythicist point? what?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil Godfrey, I will gladly answer questions that do not attribute to me views I do not hold. As I indicated in my review, Doherty is at least partly right when he says that some Jews expected a Messiah who would appear in history. The question is whether the “some” ought to be replaced by “most” or by “all.” And of course, since we only have those texts that have survived, we have no way of concluding with certainty that there was no one who held views not found in surviving texts. But should we really use limited historical evidence as an opportunity to engage in unbridled speculation? I don’t think so. I think that if there is consistency about a certain point across surviving texts, then scholars and historians should respect their evidential basis (recognizing of course that the discovery of more evidence could change our reconstruction).

    I am still waiting for an explanation of why, even though I have clear statements to the contrary in my publications, you keep suggesting that I think the only sorts of Jewish beliefs were “mainstream.” The consensus of scholars is that Judaism was sufficiently diverse that we cannot appropriately speak of any sort of Jewish “orthodoxy” in this period. But that doesn’t mean that there was infinite diversity and that there was nothing that those who shared a common identity through their (self-)identification as Jews held in common with respect to beliefs and practices.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Doherty writes: “For most Jews, the Messiah would be a human figure, though one destined to be exalted by God. For others, however, the agent of salvation became more spiritual. The “one like a son of man” in Daniel 7 offered itself as a divine, or semi-divine savior figure.”

    McGrath writes:”Doherty is at least partly right when he says that some Jews expected a Messiah who would appear in history. The question is whether the “some” ought to be replaced by “most” or by “all.””

    My question (part of it –let’s stick to one thing at a time) is why the discrepancy. What has Doherty got wrong here? Do you agree with Doherty here and if not, why not?

    I do not understand your own question of me. Perhaps you can quote me exactly what I have said that you do not understand.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      McGrath, you have not replied to this question yet. Do you intend to?

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    McGrath, I just noticed your earlier post in which you said midrash was “a genre”. Did you mean that, and if so in what sense? My reading of Jewish scholars discussing a wide varieties of genres using midrash informs me midrash itself is not necessarily a genre but a method of interpretation. Am I wrong? Are those scholars who specialize in midrash wrong?

    Instead of just saying I am wrong or Spong or Doherty are wrong, why not put your knowledge to positive use and explain to us exactly why and were we are wrong. What is midrash? For the life of me I cannot see any contradiction between what the specialist scholars all say and what Spong and Doherty have said.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil Godfrey, Midrash is essentially a term for “commentary” on Scripture of a sort produced by ancient rabbis – and sometimes since then (the English department at Butler University offers a course on Midrash which not only studies ancient examples but gives students an opportunity to produce some of their own). I don’t think that I should have used “genre” – Midrash can include a number of different sorts of commentary. But my main point remains – what evidence can you offer for your claim, derived I presume from Spong, that the Gospels represent a commentary on the Jewish Scriptures?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      As you know midrash comes in many forms. But it is Jewish scholars who have written about midrash in the period that embraces the general period in question who themselves have discussed specific examples of midrash that are pure narrative (not explicit commentary) that has been crafted out of biblical passages for the sake of presenting a reinterpretation of those passages. The Lamentations Rabbah includes such works of midrash.

      I know NT scholars have rubbished the idea of the gospels being “midrash”, but from my own reading of what Jewish midrashic scholars themselves say it is those NT scholars who have a narrow perspective of what midrash encompasses.

      • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

        By “Jewish scholars” I am primarily meaning scholars whose specialty is Jewish studies.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I would have said it was the other way around – New Testament scholars adopted the term, and Jewish studies scholars pointed out how they were misusing it.

    I suspect that if we were to trace it back, it would appear in NT studies in conjunction with or around the same time as the proposal that the Gospels were connected with and a commentary on the set readings from the Torah and Prophets in the synagogue. That view has not been widely accepted because the texts simply don’t fit, but at least that proposal in fact viewed the Gospels as Midrash using that term correctly.

    Which Jewish studies scholars view Midrash as a process which invents new savior figures from Scripture and weaves extended narratives about their activities?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      “Other way around”? I have never suggested anything different from what you yourself have said is the “right way around”.

      Which mythicists or New Testament scholars of any stripe have ever defined midrash as a process of inventing new saviour figures and weaving extended narratives about their activities? It is this sort of twisting and distortion of what Doherty (or I or in this case Spong too) have said that makes reasoned discussion impossible with you. Why do you twist words to set up straw men like this?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

     
     
    Aren’t the gospels essentially extended narratives about a new savior figure? So surely Neil’s promotion of Spongs ideas are that Midrash can explain the creation of the gospels, there is no need to postulate a real event in history. ?? So in Neil’s definition Midrash has been demonstrated to produce an invented savior figure and extended narratives of their life. I have to agree that those seem to be elements missing from the Midrash I’ve seen, though of course I haven’t seen all of it.  I’m sure Neil would like us to send him a report on all midrashic stories before we move on. But yeah I would be hesitant to the genre of a literary form that doesn’t even do novellas or anecdotal tales.
     
    Does it not seem that Neil often reputes having his ideas if they are presented in a critical way? If you had posted “ So midrash is a process which invents new savior figures and weaves extended narratives about their activities, cool!” on his site he would congratulate you on understanding his wit.(and note the way he slightly changes your presentation. “midrash as a process of inventing new saviour figures and weaving. Neil” from, “Midrash as a process which invents new savior figures from Scripture and weaves. James”. Neil’s translation of your phrase implies that this is all Midrash does, create savior narratives when the actual meaning is as defined; midrash on occasion creates narratives about savior figures.  Do you think is to put out the message, that you misrepresent him, without disavowing his beliefs? Why not defend the belief? If he thinks it is accurate, he should be confident he could easily show objective examples.
     
    So Neil, what relationship, if any, does Midrash have to the NT Gospels? Could Midrash explain the Gospel, or most of it?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Oh my goodness! This is quite over the top! What on earth is the issue here? Am I a criminal for having a different view? 

      All this comes from Doherty and Spong simply refering to a “midrashic style” and now they and I are blasted with cannon for daring to suggest we all hold “the wrong definition” of midrash! As if we are all communist sympathizers in a McCarthyist America!

      Midrash is not mysterious. It is even found in the writings of Josephus as well as the rabbinic writings AND the New Testament (Krugel, 1990). Krugel is not a dummy and was included on a specialist bibliography McGrath “approved” as a source — at least when I asked him. On Krugel see http://www.jameskugel.com/cv.php

      Midrash in addition refers to specific collections of writings that have a distinctive style, and it is there that it seems to me that many NT scholars have stumbled over the term and restricted its meaning to one subset (though a major one, no doubt) of Jewish literature.

      But Spong and Doherty and scholars of midrash themselves have not used it in such a restricted sense. It is simply a method of interpretation that can be applied to any genre one likes. It can be explicit or implicit. It can involve everything from modifying an original text to speculation on alternative or hidden meanings beneath the surface of the OT texts. We find both in the gospels as much as in early rabbinic writings — and in Paul’s letters, too.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    In other words, for mythicists, Midrash can mean anything they wish it to – just like the New Testament texts.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      The Jewish Encyclopedia, Krugel, Hasan-Rokem, et al are not mythicists.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And you believe that you, and other mythicists, use the term in precisely the same sense as they do, without adding anything?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      To the best of my understanding I do use the term precisely in the same sense as they do, yes, without adding anything. And there is absolutely nothing in the way Spong or Doherty have used the term that is different from the senses in which, they, too, point to the Gospels and Paul’s letters as containing examples of midrash.

      (But I have yet to see you acknowledge what I have said without your straw man reconstructions.)

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Your own explanation of midrash in an earlier comment is really only a description of one subset of how midrash is used or applied. Midrash is also a name given to that subset of literature. But the term midrash can have different meanings — it can refer to a particular collection or a technique of interpretation. That is why you have always only ever seen D and S speak of “midrashic technique or style” because that is exactly what the gospels are doing with OT texts. If I am wrong then kindly explain how or where without insult.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    What on earth is the hostility about here? Golly gosh, midrash is hardly a “mythicist” concept.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Which Jewish Midrashim are, in your opinion, the closest analogues to the Gospels, and/or to the creative process mythicists posit in the pre-Pauline period?

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    If you are serious about an answer to your question then you will clarify exactly what you are asking. As far as I can see you do not accept the generic concept of midrash as found in specialist Jewish scholarship on the topic so what exactly do you mean by “Jewish midrashim”? A genre? A collection? A particular set of writings? How can I answer your question when it couches the critical term in a context that indicates you do not accept my understanding of the term?

    The pre-Pauline period? Yes, there are abundant examples, and I will be discussing these in posts on my blog in coming weeks.

    But tell me, why on earth the hostility over this? You are a professor, are you not? Why can’t you simply explain professionally — with evidence — exactly where I am wrong if I am? Why the hostility?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    There’s no hostility – I just think that if you are going to posit that Midrash is a category applicable to the Gospels, then you need to show first that you have understood the concept of Midrash apart from the Gospels, second that you are not defining it in such a vague or broad manner that it could fit anything, and then show how it fits the Gospels.

    In a recent post, for instance, on the one hand you add a final “or other” that seems to be suggesting that the term as you use it could mean anything, while on the other hand you seem to sill be suggesting that it could apply to what mythicists think was happening in early Christianity – the invention of Jesus based on Scripture. And so I keep objecting clearly and plainly that that is not how Midrash is used, and I keep asking you – if you think otherwise – to provide evidence. Hopefully at some point you will actually address this, and not keep putting it off by pretending that you don’t understand the objection or what I am asking.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      As long as you keep objecting without explaining why I am wrong (simply telling me I’m wrong is not explaining anything) and accusing me of pretending, and ignoring what I have said about what midrash actually is, and by reducing the argument to one about “mythicism” for which you have contempt, then you are being hostile in your exchanges.

      You simply avoid answering my own questions directly and unequivocally, and refuse to explain your own terms, and the accuse me of “pretending” not to understand you.

      Mideast simply means “inter

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    Perhaps you would care to relate your understanding of Midrash to the definition in The Jewish Encyclopedia, for instance? Is that specific enough for you?

    Midrash encompasses a variety of forms of commentary on and discussion around Jewish Scripture and thus is challenging to define, which is why I keep asking if you can provide specific examples from the classic Midrashim of what you think you see going on in early Christianity. Working with a dictionary definition of a type of literature – even one that is relatively easily defined – is no substitute for acquaintance and interaction with the literature itself.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      So you will not tell me why my understanding is wrong.

      I will be posting more on it – with explanations from midrash scholars directly comparing the gospel narratives with Jewish applications.

      But you have totally mis-read my own blog post where I used “or other” http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/07/22/birth-and-death-of-the-messiah-two-jewish-midrash-tales/

      That was a reference to other forms of literature to which midrash can an be applied – e.g. Letters, poems. For you to suggest I was opening up the term to mean anything I like is gross mis-reading.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      I know Neusner says it is too hard to define but other scholars in that bibliography you “approved” have not found it so difficult. Neusner seems to have let the diversity of its applications get the better of him. Other scholars have been more useful by being able to distinguish between the vast array of applications and approaches to it and the “it” itself. You won’t have difficulty with explaining what it is if you extend your reading beyond Neusner in this particular instance.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    What do I need to write for it to become clear to you that I believe your use of the term Midrash in relation to the Gospels is wrong because the Gospels do not resemble what we find in ancient Jewish Midrashim? Do I need to go through Midrash Rabbah section by section and point out all the ways it is unlike the Gospels, and then do the same with other works of Midrash? I don’t understand what else you need in order for you to grasp this point.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      That is the point of our difference, James. You only think of a certain collection of rabbinic literature as “midrashim” while I am referring to the essential meaning of midrash as it is found in a broader range of literature, including early christian literature.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    And if you do not accept my criticism, then all you have to do is provide actual examples of Jewish Midrash which match what mythicists claim is to be found in the Gospels or Paul, and explain why you believe that not only the end results but also the procedures that define the essence of Midrash were operative in the production of the Gospels/epistles/Jesus-myth as well.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I think that you are being misled by the simplicit of some definitions because you are not actually familiar with the Midrashim. You are like someone who discusses the nature of the Gospels or ancient biography only considering the defitions that scholars and reference works offer but without being intimately familiar with the primary literature that these works are trying to define, summarize and describe.

    And so I will ask again, which Midrashim resemble the Gospels, or other early Christian literature that you would identify as Midrash?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    What I am asking you to do is justify and explain your application of this Rabbinic term to early Christian literature.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      As I said, I will continue to post on my blog about it and will quote midrash scholars who do just that – and who even apply to to pre-Christian literature.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    OMG, this is would be hilarious if not tinged by the tragedy of a deeply flawed mind. So your problem James, you narrow minded fuddy duddy, is you only think of midrash as midrash, while Neil has taken the meaning, “interpretation and is a way of interpreting scriptures”, applied it to the Gospels because he believes that they are interpretations of the scripture, and then uses that to argue the Gospels are midrash, and thus only interpretations of scriptures, not attempts to describe actual events and people. It has a nice symmetry:  the Gospels are interpretations of scripture because they are midrash; the Gospels are midrash because they are interpretations of scripture.
     
    He is still milking “midrash itself means creation of literary figures” a straw man he himself made and tries to present as yours.  All this distraction to cover up that he is attempting apply a label of one item to another, even though he cannot produce an example to show why this would fit.
     
    I’m not sure why he does not argue that the parable and the folklore tale from his post you linked to are examples of the sort of midrash you are asking for.  They are not extended narratives like the Gospels, but they’re similar to some of the Gospel episodes. The parable here is similar to the parable of the wicked tenants, a short story is told to illustrate a Biblical text. Of course the parable in Neil’s article would work well in a Gospel if you replaced Rabbi Avin with Jesus.  I mean there is no hindrance to claiming a real Jesus would use midrash, or that someone would present him as using midrash.  I have suspected that some of the gospel episodes are reworked parables (I have wondered if Jesus’ good friend Lazarus was inspired by Lazarus and the rich man or if the miracle of the water to wine was originally a parable) Of course making the jump that the rest of it is reworked parables would be an unjustified leap. There are jokes in Hamlet but it isn’t a comedy.
     
    The story about the fall of Bar Kochba is less illustrative of the principle Neil wants to establish. Simply put, Bar Kochba is not a fictional person, and his defeat is not a fictional event, even if the details presented here are.  The verse quoted reflects an old motif in Biblical thinking, that the people would be assured victory except for some slight against God.  Examples are the defeat of Israel by Ai, Saul’s rejection as king, and Deuteronomy 32’s inspiration, the destruction of Israel.  It would be natural in the wake of Bar Kochba’s defeat to attribute this to him incurring God’s wrath somehow, perhaps by trickery, since no doubt Bar Kochba was popular with the masses earlier.  It is even very possible that Bar Kochba had this particular Rabbi killed. This sort of internal conflict accompanies rebellions.  And recall, the defeat of Herod was blamed on his executing John the Baptist. So to say that this episode was created to illustrate the verse seems incorrect.  More likely the defeat of Bar Kochba was explained by resorting to the verse with specific details added to improve the narrative and make clear the explanation.  So it does have parallels to the Gospels, but not in the way Neil would like.  I can see why has not presented them to you as evidence now, James.

  • Earl Doherty

    One of the amusing aspects of this debate is the way Jim is arguing from a point of view which says that nothing can ever be used or conducted in a way which is an innovation, enlargement, loose application over the strict usages and meanings of the past. I guess he objects to 98% of the jargon that has been attached to the Internet, since it contravenes or makes new usage of terms which in the past have had different applications.

    I guess he doesn’t subscribe to Christian views of the Messiah, since they applied the term to something quite unlike what previous Jewish envisionings were. No “Messiah” was thought to be due to be crucified, so Christian doctrine is thereby discredited.

    Myself and Spong were careful not to fully equate the “midrash” of the Gospels with the traditional “midrash” of previous Jewish scribal practice in every jot and tittle. But in any new ‘genre’ or literary innovation (which the Gospels seem to have been in many respects), resemblances to previous practices invite the creative use of a familiar term for those previous practices, especially when the essence of the practice remains the same or similar.

    Surely the definition of “commentary” is broad enough to encompass a narrative creation aimed at embodying a symbolic teaching message when that creation is put together out of the texts and ideas of traditional previous literature which itself embodied a teaching message. Traditional Jewish commentary was designed to cast new light and interpretation on existing sources of morality and insight into God’s workings. If a creative narrative of a fictional nature was designed to do the same thing under new circumstances, drawing on those existing sources which Jews were so attuned to, why should not the term “midrash” be pressed into service? Perhaps Mark was not consciously aware that he was following certain traditional procedures, but we should certainly be allowed to characterize his work as such.

    And who the heck ever said that a definition of midrash was “the creation of literary figures”? Rather, the creation of a literary figure by Mark (though prefigured in Q), was effected through some of the procedures known in traditional midrash. Nor has anyone simply equated the ‘midrashic’ process of the Gospels with strict traditional Jewish rabbinical midrash.

    Jim’s semantic protestations are simply a smokescreen to avoid having to acknowledge that the Gospels are constructions entirely dependent on the Jewish scriptures, with no sign (and certainly no corroboration from outside themselves) of any history remembered within them, regardless of what terms we use to describe them.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I have no problem with a term being used in a creative new way. But in this case, you only said that that is what you and other mythicists were doing when it was pointed out that you were not using the term in its previously-accepted sense. And so is there any way we can tell now whether your claim to be creatively adapting this Rabbinic term is not itself a smokescreen to cover your earlier misunderstanding of it?

    • Earl Doherty

      Would you like to point out how we were using the term solely in “its previously-accepted sense” of classic rabbinical practice and NOT in a fashion which allowed for some leeway in creativity and evolution in a new setting? My paragraph on p.86-7, which is (so far) the sole basis on which you brought this subject up, is hardly so restrictive, as far as I can see (and intended). I think you imposed that reading for your own purposes. And still are.

      It’s ironic that in order to condemn my (creative, if you like) use of the concept of midrash, which is based on that of a recognized scholar like Spong, you are forced to condemn Spong as well. Shades of Jeffrey Gibson, who in another context, was forced to condemn George Buchanan and his commentary on Hebrews, since the latter was unfortunate enough to provide me with support on a certain point in that epistle.

      You guys are so transparent!

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    I’m not sure whether your sentence is garbled or if you are genuinely trying to suggest that I said the opposite of what I actually did. But I think it is better to focus on one thing that is clear: you think that John Shelby Spong is a “recognized scholar.” Of what? And in what sense? Is this yet another example of the low standards that mythicists have for what constitutes scholarship, or does this reflect a genuine confusion on your part?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      I am preparing a set of 3 posts that will appear soon. The first will be a range of scholarly definitions and explanations of the term; the second will be extracts from scholarly discussions and debates over the application of the term to the Gospels; third will be my favourite – extracts from publications by Jewish scholars specializing in Jewish studies, in particular midrash, showing what they themselves say about the New Testament and midrash.

      Reading McGrath would lead the unwary to  be misled about “what scholars say” about this.

      What most bemuses me is McGrath’s association of the argument with mythicism. Others use it to support historicity.

    • Earl Doherty

      So now Spong is not a “recognized scholar”? Meaning, he is not a “scholar” at all, or at least one of “low standards.” What it amounts to is that the only ‘scholar’ you will ‘recognize’ is one attached to an institution which would boot Spong off its faculty for showing some innovation and initiative (the dangerous variety) in his scholarship, and for taking a ‘popular’ approach in his books.

      That’s disgusting, Jim. But it’s in keeping with your manipulation of the idea of “peer review.” Let’s call it the “Loading the Dice” brand of scholarly debate. I guess that’s the “standards” you work by.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

        Spong wouldn’t be applying for the faculty because he is a bishop, not a professor.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    What, may I ask, is “the argument” to which you are referring?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Guess

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Earl Doherty, which faculty are you under the illusion that John Shelby Spong was on? He has a master of divinity and even a couple of honorary doctorates, but has never served as a faculty member, to my knowledge. He was bishop of Newark until his retirement recently, unless I am mistaken.

    Were you thinking of someone else?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    What do you think the response of mythicists would be if the situation were reversed, and someone arguing for the conclusion of mainstream historians cited a bishop as a “scholar”?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Good to hear you dismiss the Bishop of Durham’s publications out of hand.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    You don’t? :-)

    N. T. Wright has said some things that have no place in academic historical discourse. But his qualifications and relevant experience certainly excel those of Spong, I think everyone would agree.

    But it was the mythicists who complained about scholars having church connections and dogmatic biases, and then go on to cite a bishop and people with theology degrees when it suits them.

    It is the hypocrisy that bothers me, not the church connection. But citing Spong as though he had some relevant scholarly credentials or research history in the domain of Rabbinic literature also seems to me to be problematic. Surely if he is right, then there will be scholars of Rabbinic literature that will say the same thing, and so they are the source to turn to when seeking to document a claim.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      No, I don’t. I have found some things of value in N.T. Wright’s work among the chaff, and have said so on my blog. It’s the arguments that interest me no matter whom they are from.

      Do you have anything apart from ad hominem in your intellectual arsenal?

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    No surprises in your reply. Mythicists never refuse any statement that seems favorable to mythicism, no matter who it us from, in my experience.

    Since when did asking about whether a person has relevant expertise in a given area become the meaning of “ad hominem”?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      More ad hominem. Guess the answer is ‘no’.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      When one is rhetorically asking whether a person has relevant expertise in order to undermine the opponent’s argument then that is directed “at the man” and not at the argument.

      I see you have no interest in even attempting a civil and respectful exchange.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    If I suggest that in that last comment you seem to be projecting your own past behavior onto those who disagree with you, would that too constitute an ad hominem argument? Why is it that when you in the past have maligned the credibility and intelligence if mainstream scholars, never mind simply asking about their qualifications, none of these qualms have arisen?

    You seem to still need to grasp that a civil and respectful exchange involves treating your conversation partner, their claims, their sources and their arguments the same way you would want your own treated.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      I see you have no interest in even attempting a civil and respectful exchange.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      McGrath, you keep turning to your feelings about the past to justify your ongoing attacks on me. You might do well to remember that you were no saint and that I was responding to your gratuitous insults and ridicule and certain claims made with misplaced confidence and that stretched beyond your evident area of expertise and knowledge.

      No, I have never denied I mocked your name once some years ago, and yes, I have written some satirical pieces about methods, but never about persons. And yes, I am prepared to do my bit to cut down to size someone who misuses his professional status to gratuitously insult and abuse others. But I have never, as you have repeatedly accused me, been guilty of blanketly “maligning the credibility and intelligence of mainstream scholars”. Nor have I ever even accused them all of religious bias. I have written of many scholarly works with great respect — and no, not for mythicist arguments at all.

      So when and how do you want me to erase everything that has been said in the past so you can begin a respectful dialogue?

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    It will be interesting to see the baloney Neil conjures up to defend his position on Midrash. I mean there could be a good case for it, but does Neil have the “intellectual arsenal” to find it? 

    I think Neil likes ad hominem because he thinks it makes him sound smart but here it just seems pompous. The guy is an A1 creep (that’s ad hominem, but rather light for me, but this is a Christian blog) and he is so transparent here that I don’t know who he expects to fool, and sadly I think the answer is, himself.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil Godfrey, what other people do when they wish to change their behavior is (1) acknowledge what they have done, (2) apologize and (3) behave differently in the future.

    You said in a recent comment that I am not nice enough to be a recipient of an apology from you. I always though that an apology depended on the niceness of the one offering it, not the person receiving it. Be that as it may, it isn’t clear to me that you have done any of those three. On the contrary, you continue to accuse others of doing things which they have not done but which you continue to do.

    I am perfectly happy to leave the past behind, even though it cannot be erased. But it is not evident that such behavior on your part is past rather than present. You are the one who needs to take steps to relegate it to the past, by not doing the same things in the future.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      OK James. So it is clear you have no intention or wish to refrain from insult, ridicule and straw men. To do so just might give others the impression that anyone defending a mythicist argument should be treated with respect. Look at the bile you inspire in others in Mike Wilson’s comment above and feel proud.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, that is not what I said, and I presume you know it. I have every intention of abiding setting up straw men. Whether I refrain from ridicule of the ridiculous will probably depend on whether there are people who are determined to treat the ridiculous as though it were serious.

    Given that Mike’s bile was aimed at you, exactly what is my role in inspiring it, and why is yours not mentioned? You seem not to realize that when your conversation partners lapse into rhetoric that they do not usually, the explanation is that, in regular interaction with you, they have stooped to your level of discourse. And for all the times I have done so in the past, I am truly sorry.

    Neil and Mike, here is a link to the latest post in Vridar about Midrash. It looks at some significant Jewish sources, and notes that those definitions do not fit the way mythicists use the term, but appeals to the fact that the definitions offered do not state explicitly that the term cannot also mean anything else someone might want it to. The post then turns to comments on an academic list-serv seeking some statements that might lend some credence to the way mythicists use the term, never stopping to ask whether these New Testament folks, discussing a term outside of their field of expertise, might not themselves be misunderstanding or misusing the term.

    Do I really need to say more?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      James wrote: “Neil and Mike, here is a link to thttp://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/07/14/review-of-earl-dohertys-jesus-neither-god-nor-man-chapter-8/#he latest post in Vridar about Midrash. It looks at some significant Jewish sources, and notes that those definitions do not fit the way mythicists use the term, but appeals to the fact that the definitions offered do not state explicitly that the term cannot also mean anything else someone might want it to. The post then turns to comments on an academic list-serv seeking some statements that might lend some credence to the way mythicists use the term, never stopping to ask whether these New Testament folks, discussing a term outside of their field of expertise, might not themselves be misunderstanding or misusing the term.”

      Neil: I did not at any point in my post “appeal to the fact that the definitions offered do not state explicitly that the term cannot also mean anything else someone might want it to.” I am unaware of any words in my post that could have been interpreted that way.

      Rather, I drew particular attention to the definitions/explanations in the Jewish Encyclopedia (Zunz) and by Kuger that underscore the exact ways others, including Doherty, use the term.

      Furthermore, the “miscellaneous” statements I included at the bottom of the post were not singled out for special attention at all, except in one case to say that I did find Mahlon Smith’s comments would be considered far too broad for other specialists. Rather than appealing to Mahlon’s statement to support an “anything at all” concept of midrash, I in fact expressed reservations about his sweeping generalization.

      In my following post I included (as I had promised) a range of scholarly views on the discussion of what the term means or how it should be used — including those opposed to its application to the Gospels. I realize that in any selection like this there will always be room for suspicion that I am being unfairly selective, so I included in each case direct links to the original sources to enable anyone to follow up related discussions and things said about those remarks.

      Doherty and Spong (one a mythicist and the other an anti-mythicist) both use the term midrash in accordance with the formal explanation of the meaning of haggadah midrash, and in accordance with the way the term is used by other scholars who accept its legitimacy in relation to the Gospels — including Jewish specialists on midrash.

      The term as Doherty has used it, and Spong (from Goulder — who as my posts make clear personally decided to avoid the term for fear of offending “purists”), is used in exactly the same way as Kruger and Levenson and Hasam-Rokem have used the word, and as is encompassed by the Jewish Encyclopedia’s references to Zunz.

      My additional quotations show that there are NT scholars who also use the term — and use the “fact” of the gospels being largely midrashic tales, even based on an extended midrash of the Elijah-Elisha cycle to support HISTORICITY — in the exact way that Doherty himself uses it. (Although of course Doherty uses it to support mythicism.)

      The birth narratives, the passion narratives, the miracles, even some of the teachings of Jesus, are in many instances essentially creations building on midrash — typically Jewish interpretations of passages in the Jewish Bible.

      Doherty does not say that midrash is a means of creating mythical messiahs. He has argued at length that the belief in Jesus Christ well preceded the Gospel narratives that were applied to that Jesus Christ.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    It is rather irrational to say James inspired bile in me. I think I’m much more harsh and personal than James, but I suspect that you feel any one who disagrees with you is challenging your self worth, and thus insulting you. The truth is you inspire bile in others because you are a sub par person. I think most rational observers of your work would conclude that. I am more than happy to judge ideas on their merits, but people must to be judged on their merits.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    For the record I would like it to be known that in the past I have suspended Mike Wilson from my blog for making comments like this on my blog and have removed the offending comments (about whoever) — not only Mike Wilson but others, too, including some who resort to this sort of level even against James McGrath.

    It perhaps should also go on the record that only recently Mike Wilson was asking on my blog for certain answers and I took the time to give him full responses. I made no personal attack on
    him but answered his challenges fully and matter of factly. No thanks. Just abuse and then this.

    I suppose I should be glad to see Mike has found a home where he can vomit this sort of stuff without fear of suspension for something worse than trolling.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @Neil, I remain under the impression that Earl Doherty thinks that the same approach to Jewish Scripture was involved in the creation of Christian faith and in the creation of the Gospels. I will ask him to clarify whether that is in fact his view or not.

    I continue to find myself puzzled by what you do on your blog. To give one example, in a recent post your offered detailed discussion of some actual scholarly sources, and then went on to suggest that the Persians might have created the whole Bible as a means of persuading people from there to relocate to a land that supposedly was their homeland, but was not. You even go so far as to suggest that the archaeological evidence is compatible with this – as though we did not have Assyrian and Moabite sources about kings like Omri, Jehu and Hezekiah, as well as other evidence which suggests that the Biblical accounts of Israel’s history are not entirely fictional. Did I misunderstand what you were trying to say in that post? If so, I would appreciate some clarification – I know you mentioned “minimalism” rather than “mythicism” but the view you articulated, if I understood you correctly, doesn’t seem to fit any sort of scholarly minimalism I am familiar with, much less one that is taken seriously because it is actually compatible with the archaeological evidence. So I would appreciate any clarification you are willing to offer.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      The index in Doherty’s book includes “midrash” and points to his discussions where he explains what he means. It was certainly used in the creation of the Gospels — the birth narratives and passion scenes are widely recognized as such, though the word “midrash” might not as often be used to describe the process. (I don’t really care if the term is used or not: it is the process that is the real point of discussion, whatever one calls it. Though calling it “midrash” does draw attention to the Jewish roots of the early Christian processes.)

      Jack Kilmon (not a mythicist, of course) proposed the possibility of the very scenario that Doherty himself has argued: that later Christians, in particular Gentiles, did not understand “midrash” in the Gospels and took the stories literally. And Jon D. Levenson (again not a mythicist) does discuss the very theology of the beloved son dying an atoning and salvific death for sin as being a Jewish-Christian midrash creation, though I don’t know if Doherty has ever quite said that.

      I have never suggested that the Persians “created the Bible”. Far from it. I was referring to the arguments in the scholarly literature, in particular those said to have emanated from the “Copenhagen School”. I know you do not accept the “minimalist” arguments and I won’t attempt to debate their merits here. What I was referring to were the proposals by the likes of Thompson and Davies and quite a number of others in various journal articles that the biblical books were the creations of the Persian and Hellenistic eras.

      We know that there were many reasons for deportations, and many methods of effecting them. Imperial propaganda was one of those methods. The Persian decree for various peoples to return to their lands and restore their gods’ temples was not necessarily a benign decree of liberation, as we can see from similar earlier Babylonian edicts. Every new conquering power boasts that it is the new liberator. (Even in the Bible the Assyrian king kindly promises to take the Jerusalemites to a nice new land of milk and honey.)

      And yes, the archaeological evidence — at least as much as I have read of it, and seen it argued and debated in the scholarly literature — is certainly arguably compatible with the above scenarios. I am not making any of this stuff up. It is just what I have read in the scholarly literature myself. I know it is not the majority view, but this is not the place to debate the merits of it. Just letting you know where I am coming from.

      I do not say that the Bible History is entirely fiction. Some of the names of kings were historical, though we all know the evidence does not always support what the Bible says about them. There was certainly a kingdom of Israel in the north, and from after the Assyrian destruction of that kingdom, a rising Kingdom of Judah. But the evidence for a united monarchy probably as thin as the evidence for a biblical Exodus.

      The minimalism I am familiar with is primarily from about ten books by Lemche, Thompson and Davies. I also refer to range of other books and journal articles by about a dozen other authors. It’s not much by scholarly standards, I know, but I do especially try to also keep a lookout for critical reviews of these works and contrary argument in the literature as well. You say the scenario I outline is not familiar to you. Maybe it is the way I present it that obscures what you do know. I first was introduced to it in Davies’ 1992 “In Search of Ancient Israel” and have seen it elaborated by Thompson in Our Mythic Past/Bible in History and other worsk, and alluded to by quite a few others who also accept the Bible as a product of the Persian/Hellenistic eras.

      The reason I find myself drawn to these arguments is because I believe the methods on which they are grounded are identical to the methods used by ancient historians in the studies of any other civilizations.

  • http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/ James F. McGrath

    @neilgodfrey:disqus wrote: “The reason I find myself drawn to these arguments is because I believe the methods on which they are grounded are identical to the methods used by ancient historians in the studies of any other civilizations.”

    This sounds like you intended a blanket statement. Surely you meant that their methods are identical to those used by those historians of antiquity that you find most persuasive – and not that all ancient historians take the approach that the minimalists do in Biblical studies. Would you be so kind as to clarify your meaning, so I don’t misunderstand or misrepresent you?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Lemche and Davies in particular have discussed historical methods generically, and addressed the methods of traditional Old Testament historical studies in particular.

      But we are talking about methods in the abstract.

      Not all ancient historians follow the rules or even “best practice” of their own trade, either. Mario Liverani has pointed in particular to earlier historians of the Hittites making fundamental mistakes.

      I don’t know if any Hittite historians justify their mistakes when they are pointed out. I understand that they lifted their game since. They probably were not even thinking consciously about a methodology when they made their mistakes. Maybe I am naive about their current state of play. I don’t know.

      I am referring to the methods of historical inquiry as discussed by Lemche in The Israelites in History and Tradition. He addressed explicitly the methods of historians of biblical Israel and compared them with historical methods more generically.

      All of the names I have mentioned have in particular discussed historical methods in relation to the problem of circular reasoning. All have critiqued the traditional methods of historians of biblical Israel as being circular. For this reason they have attempted to argue that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies — at least where they avoid the circularity trap — be followed for the study of historical Palestine, too.

      If I have misunderstood their arguments, or if their arguments are fallacious, then it will be embarrassing for me, but I would welcome being shown how I have misunderstood or where their arguments are fallacious.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    James, having read the midrash post at Vridar, I really don’t know the point of the exercise. I don’t think any doubts that there is a lot in the New Testament that is a reflection or interpretation of Hebrew scripture.  That is a trait common to much Jewish literature, and yet this body of literature (Jewish literature containing reflection or interpretation of Hebrew scripture) is not presented when one ask for a presentation of midrashic materials. It would cast the definition so wide as to be useless for specifying midrash. It would be like saying a comedy is any literature containing a joke.  And while there are frequent mentions of midrash IN the Gospels, we are not given the impression at all that the Gospels are midrash.  Earl’s statement, “the Gospels are constructions entirely dependent on the Jewish scriptures, with no sign (and certainly no corroboration from outside themselves) of any history remembered within them” is not supported by these post.  Judging from what Neil has posted (I’m no more an expert on midrash than Neil), I have no choice to agree with the NT scholars mentioned here; “I know NT scholars have rubbished the idea of the gospels being “midrash”, but from my own reading of what Jewish midrashic scholars themselves say it is those NT scholars who have a narrow perspective of what midrash encompasses. (Neil)”
     
    Proof of the deficiency of Earl’s argument is the story mentioned here, http://vridar.wordpress.com/2011/08/05/messiahs-midrash-and-mythemes-more-comparisons-with-the-gospels/#entry , the Lamentations Rabbah 2:2. Clearly Ben Kozbah is a historic figure, so what we see is folk lore developed around him with Biblical allusions. And I might add, folk lore that is far more fantastic than the folk lore surrounding Jesus. I have seen no compelling case for the entirety of the gospel being dependent on Jewish scripture. While I understand that Neil has seen several compelling cases, I think examine those will lead the reader to conclude that Neil has a lower standard for determining dependence than would be accepted by a critical examiner.  Remember, just because a scholar has said it doesn’t make it true.
     
    Which brings me to the next point, minimalism. James, I think the debates of Old Testament and Palestinian history are outside your field of study, but if you aren’t particularly familiar with the minimalist positions, you’re in good company as they haven’t had huge impact on scholarship in the English speaking world, and a standard reference like “The Oxford History of the Biblical World” doesn’t make major use of their findings, though you will find references to minimalist scholarship. Perhaps if you were a continental, you might see it differently.  As a general approach, I’m not sure how useful using one controversial opinion to give support to another controversial opinion is. I suppose if you are among the few who find minimalism persuasive, then maybe you’ll like Jesus myth. For those not familiar with the current debates in OT scholarship, it is a bit of “If that, then why not this” with the if in “if that” being a really big IF.
     
    I would like to say, that while Neil like to link minimalism with mythicism, there are huge difference. Thompson, Davies, and Lemche are recognized scholars whose works are cited frequently.  It is a bit insulting to compare them to people like Fitzgerald and Doherty.  Thompson’s struggle with the American academic system happened after the publication of the excellent “The Historicity of the Patriarchal Narrative” though scholarly channels and after he had completed higher education in his field. It is not a book aimed at de-converting evangelicals hawked online.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Well, Michael, you put out the challenge: “So Neil, what relationship, if any, does Midrash have to the NT Gospels? Could Midrash explain the Gospel, or most of it?”

      I have shown you that there is a very real relationship. The birth narratives in Luke and Matthew are recognized as midrash by Jewish and NT scholars alike. Kee has listed over 100 scripture allusions etc in chapters 11 to 16 of Mark:

      Mark 11-12: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/08/30/gospel-of-marks-use-of-jewish-scriptures-for-jesus-jerusalem-entry-narrative/

      Mark 13: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/08/27/the-little-apocalypse-of-mark-13-historical-or-creative-literature/

      Mark 14-16: http://vridar.wordpress.com/2008/08/30/jewish-scriptures-in-marks-passion-and-resurrection-narratives/

      The Elijah-Elisha cycle as been seen by some scholars as backbone to the the main pre-passion narrative of Mark; there are also Moses and Exodus (in particular Isaianic Second Exodus) allusions all through Mark. I have quoted a scholarly opinion that the Gospel of John is different from the Synoptic Gospels because of the application of different midrash.

      So now you are saying I have not proved anything to meet your initial challenge? If you have one of those Bibles that lists OT passages that are alluded to in so many of the Gospel verses, you are reading in many cases, probably most, pointers to the midrashic source of the Gospels narratives.

      Yes, the gospels are as much midrash as they are narratives as they are Greek texts. They are also, I believe on the basis of the Bakunin genre-theory underpinning of the argument, best explained as Jewish novels. Rabbis wrote a lot of folklore and historical legends as vehicles of midrash. Early Christians wrote novels or gospels as vehicles of midrash.

      If you want to get hung up on whether midrash is only midrash if it applies to historical people then you are going to exclude from the library a lot of Jewish midrash and re-write the Jewish Encyclopedia and put Kugel, Levenson and Hasan-Rokem on notice that they have it all wrong.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //The minimalism I am familiar with is primarily from about ten books by
    Lemche, Thompson and Davies. I also refer to range of other books and
    journal articles by about a dozen other authors. It’s not much by
    scholarly standards, I know, but I do especially try to also keep a
    lookout for critical reviews of these works and contrary argument in the
    literature as well.//

    You seen inordinately attracted to fringe scholarship. That’s a problem.

    //All of the names I have mentioned have in particular discussed
    historical methods in relation to the problem of circular reasoning. All
    have critiqued the traditional methods of historians of biblical Israel
    as being circular.//

    Two problems with this are:

    * None of the people you mention are actual archaeologists, or historians; they are Biblical scholars

    * Real archaeologists and historians of palaeo-Palestine history actually follow the same historical methodology as is used in the study of other Ancient Near East history; Egyptian history, Assyrian history, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Hittite history

    If you think that the majority of archaeologists and historians of palaeo-Palestine history use a method which is different to ‘processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies’, then you’re mistaken. For example, the Tel Dan stele, the Mesha stele, and the Siloam inscription, are analyzed using exactly the same methods as are used for the study of epigraphy in other historical contexts which have nothing to with the Bible. Similarly, the Biblical accession history of David is read as a propagandist apologetic in exactly the same way as the accession histories of other Ancient Near East monarchs are read.

    Only a minority of archaeologists and historians of palaeo-Palestine history use a method which is different to ‘processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies’; Fundamentalists, conservatives, and minimalists such as Lemche, Thompson, and Davies. Alarm bells should be ringing right now.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    Burke:

    You seen inordinately attracted to fringe scholarship. That’s a problem.

    Neil: So reading 10 books is a symptom of inordinate attraction? Then the several hundred mainstream books and articles I have read around the topic must really cause you concern for my mental health: http://www.librarything.com/catalog/neilgodfrey

    Burke in response to my simple statement of fact that certain names have discussed historical methods in relation to the problem of circular reasoning, and have critiqued traditional methods of OT historical scholarship:

    Two problems with this are:

    * None of the people you mention are actual archaeologists, or historians; they are Biblical scholars

    * Real archaeologists and historians of palaeo-Palestine history actually follow the same historical methodology as is used in the study of other Ancient Near East history; Egyptian history, Assyrian history, Sumerian, Akkadian, Babylonian, and Hittite history

    Neil: So biblical scholars discussing historical methods in relation to circularity is “a problem”? (I sympathise with your view but I do think it is too sweeping really. Contrary to rumours I do have a lot of respect for many biblical scholars, as well as historians and archaeologists.)

    As for the second problem, you no doubt appreciate that Albrightian archaeology is no longer the fad and you are surely thankful for the work of the likes of van Seters and (“minimalist”) Thompson for their role in the 70′s in effecting this development.

    Burke:

    If you think that the majority of archaeologists and historians of palaeo-Palestine history use a method which is different to ‘processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies’, then you’re mistaken.

    Neil: I don’t quite follow your problem with what I wrote. What I said in response to James McGrath has a long history to it, and I deliberately steered clear of opening up past wounds by linking to fuller explanations that have been addressed before. “Use a method” is a very vague statement and your speculations on what I might think unfortunately miss the specifics that I have in the past addressed. (And “palaeo-Palestine history” is also very vague. Do you mean Paleolithic? Or Calcolithic? Bronze? Iron ages?)

    Burke:

    For example, the Tel Dan stele, the Mesha stele, and the Siloam inscription, are analyzed using exactly the same methods as are used for the study of epigraphy in other historical contexts which have nothing to with the Bible. Similarly, the Biblical accession history of David is read as a propagandist apologetic in exactly the same way as the accession histories of other Ancient Near East monarchs are read.

    Neil: I agree completely. Why are you telling me all this? There is more to “method” than epigraphical and literary analyses. You may not have read ten books but if you had read just one relevant one you would probably have suspected none of this is new to me and saved yourself the trouble.

    Burke:

    Only a minority of archaeologists and historians of palaeo-Palestine history use a method which is different to ‘processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies’; Fundamentalists, conservatives, and minimalists such as Lemche, Thompson, and Davies. Alarm bells should be ringing right now.

    Neil: I don’t know of any (not just “a minority of”) contemporary archaeologists of “palaeo-Palestine history” who use different methods, so perhaps you can tell me who to be wary of. As for historians, well there we do have a wide range. Which historians (not “biblical scholars”, I know you are not talking about them) are you thinking of?

    But if you are limiting your understanding of methodology to epigraphical and literary analysis then once again you may actually be telling people nothing new. (I did say in my comment that I was not about to defend the arguments here so you might have been a little cautious before making so many presumptions about the comments you feel I need. I have discussed this issue many times elsewhere and nothing you have said has touched on the pertinent points at issue.)

    But gosh, the mere mention of words like fringe, fundamentalists and conservatives and alarm bells have won the day. Even a lexicon-illiterate (http://www.patheos.com/community/exploringourmatrix/2011/07/27/mythicism-and-peer-review/#) has got the better of me here. Thanks for helping me glimpse the solid arguments of pure reason (. . . as they fast vanish out the window)!

  • Jonathan Burke

    //So reading 10 books is a symptom of inordinate attraction?//

    No. I said nothing about how many books you’ve read. I pointed out that having apparently read a dozen authors on the subject, and well aware that minimalism ‘is not the majority view’ and hasn’t had much impact, and *still* privileging the minority view over the scholarly consensus, is part of a pattern of inordinate attraction for fringe scholarship, a pattern common to Mytherists, who are typically compelled to reject the scholarly consensus in a range of fields in order to privilege their position.

    //So biblical scholars discussing historical methods in relation to circularity is “a problem”?//

    No. I never said it was a problem. What’s a problem is that you’re choosing to privilege the opinions of Biblical scholars over the peer reviewed work of professional archaeologists and historians, who are not only trained in the relevant fields but who are specialists in them. This is the more ironic given the sweeping dismissal of Biblical scholars in which Mytherists typically indulge.

    And no, my comment is not too sweeping. It is not uncommon for qualified archaeologists, epigraphers and historians to observe that various Biblical scholars have made utterly spurious comments when attempting to comment authoritatively on fields completely outside their expertise, an entirely valid criticism. Here are some examples.

    * ‘ The present instance can serve as a useful example of why Davies and his “deconstructionists” can safely be ignored by everyone seriously interested in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies.’, Rainey (Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics at Tel Aviv University), ‘The House of David and the House of the Reconstructionists’, Biblical Archaeological Review (20.06), 1994

    * ‘On the “positivist” side of the controversy, regarding the authenticity of the inscription, we now have published opinions by most of the world’s leading epigraphers (none of whom is a “biblicist” in Thompson’s sense): the inscription means exactly what it says.’, Dever (archaeologist), ‘What Did The Biblical Authors Know, And When Did They Know It?’, pp. 128-129 (2004)

    * ‘I am not surprised that some of the leading paleographical authorities in our field have so severely criticized the effort of Rogerson and Davies to place the Siloam Inscription in the Hasmonean period.’, Hurvitz (professor of Bible and Hebrew linguistics), ‘Philology Recapitulates Paleography’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997

    * ‘In sum, it is the Biblical and inscriptional evidence adduced by Rogerson and Davies in support of their claim that undermines it. I would strongly suggest, therefore, that if they insist on their theory regarding the late dating of the Siloam tunnel, they should drop the linguistic argumentation from their discussion—which for them is unfamiliar territory.’, Hurvitz (professor of Bible and Hebrew linguistics), ‘Philology Recapitulates Paleography’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997

    * ‘Ahlstrom and Edelman have simply demonstrated that Biblical scholars untrained in Egyptian epigraphy should not make amateurish attempts at interpretation.’, Rainey (Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics at Tel Aviv University), ‘Scholars Disagree: Can You Name the Panel with the Israelites?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (17.06), November/December 1991.

    //I don’t quite follow your problem with what I wrote.//

    You said that scholars such as Lemche and Thompson ‘have attempted to argue that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies — at least where they avoid the circularity trap — be followed for the study of historical Palestine, too’. This demonstrates your lack of awareness that the processes normally followed in nonBiblical studies ARE ALREADY followed for the study of historical Palestine.

    //”Use a method” is a very vague statement and your speculations on what I might think unfortunately miss the specifics that I have in the past addressed.//

    It was your own terminology I was using.

    * ‘Lemche and Davies in particular have discussed historical METHODS generically, and addressed the METHODS of traditional Old Testament historical studies in particular.’

    * ‘I am referring to the METHODS of historical inquiry as discussed by Lemche in The Israelites in History and Tradition. He addressed explicitly the METHODS of historians of biblical Israel and compared them with historical methods more generically.’

    * ‘All of the names I have mentioned have in particular discussed historical METHODS in relation to the problem of circular reasoning. All have critiqued the traditional METHODS of historians of biblical Israel as being circular.’

    I am referring to the same METHODS as you were when you used the word METHOD. I apologize if that was confusing. This has nothing to do with any history between you and James.

    //And “palaeo-Palestine history” is also very vague.//

    No it isn’t. It refers to the ancient history of Palestine/Syro-Palestine (whichever you want to call it), from the Bronze Age to the Babylonian era. Given the context of this discussion, you should have been aware that the Neolithic era was not in view; commentators such as Lemche, Davies, and Thompson don’t study Neolithic Palestine, do they?

    //I agree completely. Why are you telling me all this?//

    Because your previous statements demonstrated a lack of awareness that this is how the majority of archeologists and historians already study the Biblical texts and the history of Palestine. Remember your words:

    //For this reason they have attempted to argue that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies — at least where they avoid the circularity trap — be followed for the study of historical Palestine, too.//

    Here you are pointing out that scholars such as Lemche and Thompson ‘have attempted to argue that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies — at least where they avoid the circularity trap — be followed for the study of historical Palestine, too’. But the processes normally followed in nonBiblical studies ARE ALREADY followed for the study of historical Palestine. They are ‘arguing’ for something which is already being done.

    If you were already fully aware that these processes are already being followed for the study of historical Palestine (as you now claim), then why did your previous comments demonstrate no knowledge of this, and instead present Lemche and Thompson as arguing for something which ISN’T already happening?

    //There is more to “method” than epigraphical and literary analyses. //

    I agree. Relevance?

    //I don’t know of any (not just “a minority of”) contemporary archaeologists of “palaeo-Palestine history” who use different methods, so perhaps you can tell me who to be wary of. As for historians, well there we do have a wide range. Which historians (not “biblical scholars”, I know you are not talking about them) are you thinking of?//

    Ahlström (historian), Grabbe (historian), and Silberman (archaeologist and historian).

    //But if you are limiting your understanding of methodology to epigraphical and literary analysis…//

    No I am not . I simply used them as two examples. I indicated this using the introductory phrase ‘For example’. I apologize if this was confusing. Please let me know which English phrase you would prefer me to use when introducing an example in future, if ‘For example’ is too obscure.

    The point once more; are you or are you not aware that the processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies are already followed in the study of historical Palestine as well?

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      No. I said nothing about how many books you’ve read. I pointed out that having apparently read a dozen authors on the subject, and well aware that minimalism ‘is not the majority view’ and hasn’t had much impact, and *still* privileging the minority view over the scholarly consensus, is part of a pattern of inordinate attraction for fringe scholarship, a pattern common to Mytherists, who are typically compelled to reject the scholarly consensus in a range of fields in order to privilege their position.

      I can’t fight ad hominem or closed-mindedness (conviction that more than a cursory reading, for and against, of a minority position is “privileging” it) with reason so I guess you win.

      No. I never said it was a problem. What’s a problem is that you’re choosing to privilege the opinions of Biblical scholars over the peer reviewed work of professional archaeologists and historians, who are not only trained in the relevant fields but who are specialists in them. This is the more ironic given the sweeping dismissal of Biblical scholars in which Mytherists typically indulge.

      Privilege? You lost me when you indicated I was “privileging” them because I have put more effort into knowing more about them than you do, so I guess you win again.

      But what on earth has this to do with mythicism? Most mythicists I know know little about minimalism and most minimalists I have read are not mythicists. So what does this have to do with mythicism? Or is this another ad hominem that reason is incapable of challenging? 

      And no, my comment is not too sweeping. It is not uncommon for qualified archaeologists, epigraphers and historians to observe that various Biblical scholars have made utterly spurious comments when attempting to comment authoritatively on fields completely outside their expertise, an entirely valid criticism. Here are some examples.

      * ‘ The present instance can serve as a useful example of why Davies and his “deconstructionists” can safely be ignored by everyone seriously interested in Biblical and Ancient Near Eastern studies.’, Rainey (Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics at Tel Aviv University), ‘The House of David and the House of the Reconstructionists’, Biblical Archaeological Review (20.06), 1994

      * ‘On the “positivist” side of the controversy, regarding the authenticity of the inscription, we now have published opinions by most of the world’s leading epigraphers (none of whom is a “biblicist” in Thompson’s sense): the inscription means exactly what it says.’, Dever (archaeologist), ‘What Did The Biblical Authors Know, And When Did They Know It?’, pp. 128-129 (2004)

      * ‘I am not surprised that some of the leading paleographical authorities in our field have so severely criticized the effort of Rogerson and Davies to place the Siloam Inscription in the Hasmonean period.’, Hurvitz (professor of Bible and Hebrew linguistics), ‘Philology Recapitulates Paleography’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997

      * ‘In sum, it is the Biblical and inscriptional evidence adduced by Rogerson and Davies in support of their claim that undermines it. I would strongly suggest, therefore, that if they insist on their theory regarding the late dating of the Siloam tunnel, they should drop the linguistic argumentation from their discussion—which for them is unfamiliar territory.’, Hurvitz (professor of Bible and Hebrew linguistics), ‘Philology Recapitulates Paleography’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997

      * ‘Ahlstrom and Edelman have simply demonstrated that Biblical scholars untrained in Egyptian epigraphy should not make amateurish attempts at interpretation.’, Rainey (Professor Emeritus of Ancient Near Eastern Cultures and Semitic Linguistics at Tel Aviv University), ‘Scholars Disagree: Can You Name the Panel with the Israelites?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (17.06), November/December 1991.

      Ah, now I think I see. Of course, a series of extracts from one side of the debate — the one with the most heads — is all I need to show how silly I have been. All that time and effort understanding the arguments was a complete waste of time. I should have just read their opponents. Silly me. 

      You said that scholars such as Lemche and Thompson ‘have attempted to argue that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies — at least where they avoid the circularity trap — be followed for the study of historical Palestine, too’. This demonstrates your lack of awareness that the processes normally followed in nonBiblical studies ARE ALREADY followed for the study of historical Palestine.

      You are repeating yourself and ignoring the facts of what Lemche et al have written, not to mention my previous explanation that no-one has any argument with epigraphical and literary analysis.

      //”Use a method” is a very vague statement and your speculations on what I might think unfortunately miss the specifics that I have in the past addressed.//

      It was your own terminology I was using. . . . .

      I am referring to the same METHODS as you were when you used the word METHOD. I apologize if that was confusing. This has nothing to do with any history between you and James.

      Well I did say in my initial post this was not the place to defend my claim, simply to explain where I stood. And I did say that there was a history behind the words. So for you to waltz in and act as if you know exactly what I was talking about, and to say that nothing you think you are addressing has anything to do with history is, well . . . . I guess you have it all over any possible argument mere reasonableness can muster.

      //And “palaeo-Palestine history” is also very vague.//

      No it isn’t. It refers to the ancient history of Palestine/Syro-Palestine (whichever you want to call it), from the Bronze Age to the Babylonian era. Given the context of this discussion, you should have been aware that the Neolithic era was not in view; commentators such as Lemche, Davies, and Thompson don’t study Neolithic Palestine, do they?

      Good idea to toss in that question mark. But if you had read them you would hardly need to ask. :-)

      Because your previous statements demonstrated a lack of awareness that this is how the majority of archeologists and historians already study the Biblical texts and the history of Palestine. Remember your words:

      //For this reason they have attempted to argue that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies — at least where they avoid the circularity trap — be followed for the study of historical Palestine, too.//

      Wow. I give the briefest of outlines of what others argue and I am “demonstrating a lack of awareness of how the majority of archaeologists and historians” work? You seem to think that because I have read a few books by and about minimalists I have read nothing else. You clearly have no idea of what the arguments of Lemche and co to which I was referring are. You win again on all these points. Rational argument has no chance.

      Here you are pointing out that scholars such as Lemche and Thompson ‘have attempted to argue that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies — at least where they avoid the circularity trap — be followed for the study of historical Palestine, too’. But the processes normally followed in nonBiblical studies ARE ALREADY followed for the study of historical Palestine. They are ‘arguing’ for something which is already being done.

      If you were already fully aware that these processes are already being followed for the study of historical Palestine (as you now claim), then why did your previous comments demonstrate no knowledge of this, and instead present Lemche and Thompson as arguing for something which ISN’T already happening?

      This is absurd. You have no idea what you think you are arguing against. I can’t reason with absurdity. It reminds me of the ineptness of one who cannot even read a lexicon.

      //There is more to “method” than epigraphical and literary analyses. //

      I agree. Relevance?

      Your ignorance is starting to show. Is it really privileging a position to know what it is before you attempt to argue against it? I call it closed-mindedness.

      Ahlström (historian), Grabbe (historian), and Silberman (archaeologist and historian).

      You only answered half my question here, interestingly. But yes I have read lots of work by Grabbe and a fair bit by Silberman. Less by Ahlstrom. So where do we go from here? 

      //But if you are limiting your understanding of methodology to epigraphical and literary analysis…//

      No I am not . I simply used them as two examples. I indicated this using the introductory phrase ‘For example’. I apologize if this was confusing. Please let me know which English phrase you would prefer me to use when introducing an example in future, if ‘For example’ is too obscure.

      I did say “but IF’ and you carry on as if you don’t know the meaning of that word any more than you know how to read a lexicon. But if you are so touchy about it, why not simply tell me what other aspects of methodology you are thinking of? Is “relevance” the third? 

      The point once more; are you or are you not aware that the processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies are already followed in the study of historical Palestine as well?

      I get it now. You are testing your psychic powers, aren’t you. Sorry, but they let you down this time. Practice them on trying to find out what various scholars like Lemche, Thompson and Davies et al actually say. Then consult their works and see how often you got it right. Better still, use them on “divining” which of their critics got them most right, then consult both works to see how right even they were.

      You mentioned alarm bells before. I hear alarm bells when critics — including the likes of yourself — resort to ad hominem and mind-reading and intellectual bullying tactics in place of reasoned and informed professional discussion.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //conviction that more than a cursory reading, for and against, of a minority position is “privileging//

    No. I never said that more than a cursory reading, for and against, of a minority position is privileging.

    //You lost me when you indicated I was “privileging” them because I have put more effort into knowing more about them than you do, so I guess you win again.//

    No. I did not indicated that you were privileging them because you have put a effort into knowing about them. It’s clear you don’t know as much about as I do.

    //But what on earth has this to do with mythicism?//

    I explained what it has to do with Mytherism. Mytherists are compelled to reject the scholarly consensus in a range of fields in order to privilege their position. So we can expect them to follow Doherty on the issue of Jesus, we can expect them to reject the standard professional lexicons, we can expect them to take Thompson’s view of Israel’s history, and naturally we can expect them to accept DM Murdock’s claims concerning a global civilization of genius pygmies. It is also no surprise when we find Mytherists claming vaccinations are of no use, questioning germ theory, and doubting that HIV causes AIDS.

    //Of course, a series of extracts from one side of the debate — the one with the most heads — is all I need to show how silly I have been.//

    No. You did not read what I wrote. I provided examples of qualified archaeologists, epigraphers and historians observing that various Biblical scholars have made utterly spurious comments when attempting to comment authoritatively on fields completely outside their expertise, an entirely valid criticism. There is no ‘debate’ about this; when completely unqualified people object to the scholarly consensus of qualified professionals, that’s not a ‘debate’, that’s simply unqualified people expressing their personal opinions in the face of a qualified professional consensus. It’s what we see in the case of anthropogenic climate change denial, and Creationism.

    It was not surprising that you responded to this with the false accusation that this was simply a matter of the side ‘with the most heads’. It is no such thing. It is a matter of a consensus of qualified professionals on one side, and a handful of unqualified commentators on the other. That you privilege the handful of unqualified commentators is symptomatic of the Mytherist mindset.

    //You are repeating yourself and ignoring the facts of what Lemche et al have written, not to mention my previous explanation that no-one has any argument with epigraphical and literary analysis.//

    I am not ignoring the facts of what they have written. They claim that processes normally followed in nonbiblical studies are not followed in the study of historical Palestine. This is wrong. Such processes are followed. As it happens Lemche, Davies, and Thompson do have an argument with both epigraphical and literary analysis, arguing that such evidence is being read with a ‘fundamentalist’ perspective.[1]

    I previously provided you with five quotations showing you this, referring explicitly to Ahlström, Thompson, and Davies. How can you say no one has any argument with epigraphical and literary analysis, after I just showed you five quotations specifically identifying Ahlström, Thompson, and Davies making exactly such an objection? I shall provide you with more evidence.

    Thompson has objected to the reading ‘House of David’ on the Tel Dan Stele (suggesting his own idiosyncratic reading which has no support from professional epigraphers),[2] Davies refers to the reading of ‘House of David’ as ‘wishful thinking’ (suggesting his own idiosyncratic reading which differs from Thompson’s and also has no support from professional epigraphers),[3] and Lemche has claimed that the Tel Dan Stele is simply a forgery (whilst acknowledging that he cannot make a sufficiently credible case; ‘I have to admit that the arguments in favour of seeing the Tel Dan fragments as fake need to be much more forceful—certainly stronger than I have been able to show in this survey—if they are to prove beyond doubt that the inscription is the work of a forger’).[4]

    The minimalists also dispute the consensus reading of the Mesha stele,[5] they also dispute the consensus reading of the Merneptah stele,[6] [7] [8] and they also dispute the consensus reading of the Siloam inscription.[9] [10] [11] In other words, they dispute the consensus reading of every key epigraphical finding in the current archaeological debate.

    Not only that, but they raise specific objections to the literary analysis used to treat subjects such as the David accession narrative. If I provide quotations demonstrating this, will you actually read them? You can’t possibly claim they have no argument with epigraphical and literary analysis, when they’ve been doing exactly that for the last 15 years. Please do some proper reading before you actually comment.

    //Well I did say in my initial post this was not the place to defend my claim, simply to explain where I stood.//

    And you also said this.

    //If I have misunderstood their arguments, or if their arguments are fallacious, then it will be embarrassing for me, but I would welcome being shown how I have misunderstood or where their arguments are fallacious.//

    I took you up on that, and predictably you haven’t welcomed it at all; you’ve resisted it.

    //Good idea to toss in that question mark. But if you had read them you would hardly need to ask. //

    The question mark was clearly for your benefit; I’ve read them and I know what they say. If you’d read them then you would know they don’t address Paleolithic Palestine.

    //I give the briefest of outlines of what others argue and I am “demonstrating a lack of awareness of how the majority of archaeologists and historians” work?//

    This has nothing to do with how brief your outline was, it has to do with the fact that the outline you gave demonstrated a lack of awareness of how the majority of archaeologists and historians work. You represented them as wanting to introduce methods which aren’t being used in current studies of the history of Palestine, when in actual fact such methods are well established and commonplace in current studies of the history of Palestine.

    In your latest post you’ve also demonstrated an ignorance of what minimalists such as Lemche, Davies, and Thompson even argue; you claimed ‘no-one has any argument with epigraphical and literary analysis’, when in fact all three of them have exactly such an argument, with all the key epigraphical findings in the current archaeological debate, and with the literary methods of analysis being applied to the Biblical texts. Let’s just note that; your claim was the opposite of the truth.

    //Is it really privileging a position to know what it is before you attempt to argue against it?//

    Not at all. I never said such a thing. It’s privileging a position to show a preference for it in the full awareness that it’s a minority case made by those unqualified in the relevant fields, who contradict the current professional scholarly consensus. That’s what you do.

    The point once more; are you or are you not aware that the processes normally followed in nonBiblical studies are already followed in the study of historical Palestine as well? This is a simple question. it’s not loaded, and if you answer with a simple ‘yes’, ‘no’, or ‘I don’t know’ I won’t beat you over the head with your answer, I’ll just say ‘Thank you’. I’ll even let you get away with ‘I don’t want to answer that question’.

    //You only answered half my question here, interestingly.//

    No I didn’t. You asked this.

    //I don’t know of any (not just “a minority of”) contemporary archaeologists of “palaeo-Palestine history” who use different methods, so perhaps you can tell me who to be wary of. As for historians, well there we do have a wide range. Which historians (not “biblical scholars”, I know you are not talking about them) are you thinking of?//

    I provided two historians, and a historian/archaeologist. What did I miss?
    __________________________
    [1] ‘Since the initial publication a small but vocal minority has objected to this interpretation, arguing that it was based on a “fundamentalist” reading of the inscription in light of the biblical text.’, Schniedewind, ‘Tel Dan Stela: New Light on Aramaic and Jehu’s Revolt’, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (302.75), 1996.
    [2] Thompson, ‘‘House of David’: An Eponymic Referent to Yahweh as Godfather’, Scandinavian Journal of the Old Testament (9.1.59-74), 1995.
    [3] Davies, ”House of David’ Built on Sand: The Sins of the Biblical Maximizers”, Biblical Archaeology Review (2.4), 1994.
    [4] Lemche, ‘House of David: The Tel Dan Inscription(s)’, in Thompson & Jayyusi (eds.), ‘Jerusalem in Ancient History and Tradition ‘, p. 66 (2003).
    [5] Emerton, ‘The Value of the Moabite Stone as  a Historical Source’, Vetus Testamentum (52.4.483), 2002.
    [6] Rainey, ‘Scholars Disagree: Can You Name the Panel with the Israelites?’, Biblical Archaeology Review (17.06), November/December 1991.
    [7] Satterthwaite, & McConville, ‘Exploring the Old Testament Volume 2: The Histories’, pp. 188-196 (2007).
    [8] Shanks, ‘Jerusalem’s Temple Mount: from Solomon to the golden Dome’, p. 154 (2007).
    [9] Hendel, ‘The Date of the Siloam Inscription: A Rejoinder to Rogerson and Davies’, The Biblical Archaeologist (59.4.233), December 1996).
    [10] Cross, ‘Because They Can’t See a Difference, They Assert No One Can’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.
    [11] Hurvitz, ‘Philology Recapitulates Paleography’, Biblical Archaeology Review (23.02.), 1997.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      i shall leave you to your chest thumping and roaring arguments. You have failed to address once the discussions of method to which they have taken issue (conclusions of arguments about Aramaic are not ‘methodology’ – you write as if there is no difference) and it is a waste of time trying to reason with one who stereotypes his dialogue partner.

  • Kris

    Translation of Neil’s comments.

    I am getting torn apart intellectually and it is time for me to disappear. Standing before an informed opposition is too difficult so therefore I will simply seek to argue with the uninformed.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      The only detail missing from my “informed opposition” was consistent failure to address the methodology in dispute. Debates about the meaning of Aramaic don’t even come close. I am actually in the process of doing a series of blog posts on the interpretations of the Tel Dan inscription and have discussed logical fallacies inherent in certain methodological approaches many times. Burke indicates he has no knowledge that there are even questions in this area.

  • Kris

    Ah so I see you are still clinging to the desperate view that the Tel Dan inscription does not say House of David despite the stubborn insistence by archaeologist who insist it does. Yes there are questions but unfortunately for you in regards to this question they do not come from the academic community but by amateurs who desperately want it to say anything but House of David.

    Most be nice to be you Neil, to know more about archaeology then archaeologist and to know more about the New Testament then classical historians and New Testament scholars.

  • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

    So you say an archaeologist says an Aramaic text has a certain meaning and that those who question this are amateurs and do not come from the academic community?

    Suddenly an archaeologist is now an authority on languages and dissenting views do not come from the academic community? Excuse me if I do not waste time with your total ignorance of the scholarly debates.

  • Pf

    Wow, that was one of the most thorough butt-kickings I’ve read in quite some time.  Neil, I hope you can get Jonathan’s shoe removed without a trip to the ER.

    The minimalists are instructional here. They argued that Israel’s history was entirely made up, despite evidence to the contrary. Much more likely that there were exaggerated stories about real people.

    Then, when more evidence surfaced about individual people mentioned in the bible, demonstrating that the odds were overwhelming that there were real people behind the stories, they refused to admit that their position had become untenable.

  • Kris

    Yes cause archaeologist never study ancient languages, I mean why they would they need to know such things at all……

    We have had this discussion before Neil. I looked into your argument earlier and found them to be complete and utter garbage. Your quarrel is with academia period not those of us who point it out to you.

    Much like your beating on the myther horse, your bets on the minimalist horse show that you simply cannot engage in critical thinking.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      I don’t recall you – are you the Kris from RS? Of course archaeologists know the languages and I never denied that. You have clearly no more idea of the “other side” of the debate in academia any more than anyone else in this thread who has come out to attack it with every weapon except rational, knowledgeable debate of the issues.

      Again I have to wonder. Why all this hostility? Why all venom and ignorance?

  • Kris

    We have talked on here before.

    I don’t know why, why are you so full of venom and ignorance?

    Neil, your problem is you desperately want to believe this stuff because it would rubbish Christianity. That is it. Yes it would be a great argument against Christianity if almost all of the Old Testament could be shown to be mythical, it would  refute Christianity if Jesus never existed and it would really make Christianity look really bad if it could be shown it persecuted early scientists. 

    But it just ain’t so. Not surprisingly the ancient Jews were concerned enough with their history to get it largely right. Not surprisingly it makes more sense to explain a religion with a founder then without one. Not surprisingly Christians did not harass scientists and some were funded by the Church. They had better things to do and they were curious about nature and the universe  like anyone else.

    None of this would surprise anyone who tries to approach history in a remotely even handed fashion. There are plenty enough reasons to skeptical of Christianity without having to make up charges.  

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Well Kris, I don’t know if you can find a single post of mine in which I have “rubbished Christianity”. It is simply not my interest. If I wanted to set out on a vendetta against Christianity I would not waste time on studying Christian origins — I have never presented a cogent argument for mythicism per se, by the way, because that’s not what interests me either.

      If I were hostile against Christianity and had some goal to undermine the faith of others I would do what John Loftus does. And he is smart enough to know that arguing mythicism is not the way to undermine the faith of Christians.

      Your psychic powers to read minds and motives are as flawed as Jonathan Burke’s.

  • Kris

    Neil if you using the Jesus Myth in any way or even trying to defend it then you are trying to rubbish Christianity. Lying or supporting lies about a religion/view etc are not acceptable no matter how much like you dislike the religion/view in question.  Giving credence to the Jesus Myth is no different then giving credence to holocaust denial, ultimately people who even give these views the time of day are almost always just bigoted toward the religion in question.

    I do not need to have psychic powers to know that someone who defends minimalism and mytherism has an extreme chip on his shoulder to the subject in question no matter how much they protest to the contrary.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //You have failed to address once the discussions of method to which they
    have taken issue (conclusions of arguments about Aramaic are not
    ‘methodology’ – you write as if there is no difference) and it is a
    waste of time trying to reason with one who stereotypes his dialogue
    partner.//

    I did address the discussions of method with which they’ve taken issue. I pointed out that their objections were spurious, because the methods they want used in the study of ancient Palestine are already being used.

    And you agreed with me that such methods were already being used by the majority of archaeologists and historians in the study of ancient Palestine.. You actually said ‘I agree completely’, and ‘Why are you telling me all this?’. Since you agreed with me on that point, what was there to discuss? Yet now you claim you don’t agree with me. Which is it? Do you ‘agree completely’ or not?

    //conclusions of arguments about Aramaic are not
    ‘methodology’//

    As I have already pointed out, the mnimalist arguments about the reading of the stela in question are explicitly based on objections to methodology. They claim the stela are being read with a ‘fundamentalist’ methodology which assumes the historicity of the Bible and then looks for anything which can be interpreted as lending support to it.[1]

    But let’s not forget that this is was not your original response when I raised epigraphy. Previously you claimed ‘no-one has any argument with epigraphical and literary analysis’. That is the complete opposite of the truth. Having now been proven utterly wrong on that point, you fall back to ‘conclusions of arguments about Aramaic are not ‘methodology”. Not only is this also wrong, it’s an obvious attempt to abandon your original claim whilst attempting to save face.

    //I am actually in the process of doing a series of blog posts on the
    interpretations of the Tel Dan inscription and have discussed logical
    fallacies inherent in certain methodological approaches many times.
    Burke indicates he has no knowledge that there are even questions in
    this area.//

    I have explicitly cited Thompson, Lemche, Davies, Ahlström, Silberman, and Grabbe as raising questions in this area. How can you possibly claim I have ‘no knowledge that there are even questions in this area’?

    _______________________
    [1] ‘Since the initial publication a small but vocal minority has
    objected to this interpretation, arguing that it was based on a
    “fundamentalist” reading of the inscription in light of the biblical
    text.’, Schniedewind, ‘Tel Dan Stela: New Light on Aramaic and Jehu’s
    Revolt’, Bulletin of the American Schools of Oriental Research (302.75),
    1996.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      I did address the discussions of method with which they’ve taken issue. I pointed out that their objections were spurious, because the methods they want used in the study of ancient Palestine are already being used.

      Jonathan, my initial point was made to James McGrath with a context of past discussions and very specific issues of methodology that are raised by certain scholars. You have barged in with your accusations completely unaware of the specific issues under discussion.

      And you agreed with me that such methods were already being used by the majority of archaeologists and historians in the study of ancient Palestine.. You actually said ‘I agree completely’, and ‘Why are you telling me all this?’. Since you agreed with me on that point, what was there to discuss? Yet now you claim you don’t agree with me. Which is it? Do you ‘agree completely’ or not?

      The points of methods you raised are not the issue I was addressing. You have barged in assuming a lot of stuff and have got the wrong end of the stick. I agree with the points of method that you say are universally used, but those were not the points I was addressing in my original comment to Dr McGrath. You are really addressing tools used, anyway, rather than “methodology”, and I have no question about the tools used. Perhaps this is where you are missing the point: confusing methodology with tools. I regret my part in not addressing that distinction earlier.

      Epigraphical and literary analysis are tools, not “methodology”.

      //conclusions of arguments about Aramaic are not
      ‘methodology’//

      As I have already pointed out, the mnimalist arguments about the reading of the stela in question are explicitly based on objections to methodology. They claim the stela are being read with a ‘fundamentalist’ methodology which assumes the historicity of the Bible and then looks for anything which can be interpreted as lending support to it.[1]

      Now you’re getting a bit closer to the point. The method of assuming historicity of the Bible and then making other evidence fit that assumption is a logically flawed methodology.

      But let’s not forget that this is was not your original response when I raised epigraphy. Previously you claimed ‘no-one has any argument with epigraphical and literary analysis’. That is the complete opposite of the truth. Having now been proven utterly wrong on that point, you fall back to ‘conclusions of arguments about Aramaic are not ‘methodology”. Not only is this also wrong, it’s an obvious attempt to abandon your original claim whilst attempting to save face.

      Are you as inept at comprehending my comments as you are in knowing how to read a lexicon? I said that no-one has any argument with epigraphical and literary analysis as METHODS used – though I should have said “tools”. Of course there will be different ways of interpreting both.

      Questions about interpretations and bias are not questions about methodology.

      What is a question of methodology is what sources we choose in order to interpret epigraphy, and how we use those sources in that interpretation.

      Now that’s something I’m happy to discuss. I am not an expert in Aramaic so I cannot take sides on questions of Aramaic alone. But methodology is open to more generic understandings of logical validity.

      I have explicitly cited Thompson, Lemche, Davies, Ahlström, Silberman, and Grabbe as raising questions in this area. How can you possibly claim I have ‘no knowledge that there are even questions in this area’?

      Because none of your citations addressed the question of methodology. They were entirely arguments from authority on interpretations of Aramaic or Egyptian words. Thus  you wrote:

      Thompson has objected to the reading ‘House of David’ on the Tel Dan Stele (suggesting his own idiosyncratic reading which has no support from professional epigraphers),[2] Davies refers to the reading of ‘House of David’ as ‘wishful thinking’ (suggesting his own idiosyncratic reading which differs from Thompson’s and also has no support from professional epigraphers),[3] and Lemche has claimed that the Tel Dan Stele is simply a forgery (whilst acknowledging that he cannot make a sufficiently credible case; . . . .[4]

      The minimalists also dispute the consensus reading of the Mesha stele,[5] they also dispute the consensus reading of the Merneptah stele,[6] [7] [8] and they also dispute the consensus reading of the Siloam inscription.[9] [10] [11]

      All argument from authority and all about interpretations of words. Nothing about methodology itself is raised here.

  • Kris

    Johnathon I got to hand it to you. So far you have whipped  both Neil and Earl like the proverbial red head step children that they are. However unlike the poor red heads, those two deserve every  lash mark given them. 

  • Kris

    And unfortunately your mother did not scrape you from her womb as they say…..

    However as things remain you are stilling grasping at inept conspiracies to make the evidence the House of David  that archaeology stubbornly insist is genuine disappear.

  • Jonathan Burke

    //Our basic subject was “bias among translators” because you questioned or condemned my translations when they did not agree with the traditional translations of the establishment, and I accused them of being governed by their biases when they neglect to consider non-traditional understandings of the meaning of certain phrases.//
    No. My objection was to your rejection of the lexicons and the invention of your own lexical definitions. This was my initial objection.
    * ‘You claim a particular meaning, I look it up and find that not a single standard professional lexicon or dictionary gives that meaning (or that they specifically identify a different meaning in the passage in question), and I can’t help wondering where your evidence is because you typically don’t provide any’
    I said it again in my next post.
    * ‘I am criticizing you for failing to present lexical evidence for specific meanings you claim, and failing to even mention (let alone engage), the meanings found in standard lexicographical sources and the evidence they provide’
    And in the one after that.
    * ‘Mr Doherty, before I reply in detail, can I confirm that what you are saying is that professional lexicons are biased towards the historical Jesus paradigm, and that this affects their definition and lists of meanings of Greek words and phrases such that they exclude definitions and meanings which favour the Mytherist position?’
    And in the one after that.
    * ‘To claim that the entire field of professional Greek lexicography is biased to the extent that word definitions and meanings are selected on the basis of a preconceived belief in a historical Jesus is an extraordinary claim indeed, and certainly requires extraordinary evidence.’
     
    Note the complete consistency of my objection here; no goal post changing, not a word about translations. You understood my objection was to your rejection of the lexicons, and consistently responded by explaining why you rejected them.
    * ‘Since my theory involves a radically different interpretation of the record, it is hardly surprising if the average lexicon does not see things the way I do and present a meaning in conformity with mine!’
    * ‘Standard lexicons and scholarship tend not to “engage” meanings which would discredit HJ paradigms, which as I pointed out earlier (something you ignored) is the reason why most lexicons and other publications don’t put them forward.’
    Here you demonstrate you know full well what my objection is, and you address it specifically. You also told me you realized no lexicon provides your meaning of the phrase in discussion in 1 Corinthians 15:3.
    * ‘OTOH, the “meaning” I give to that 1 Cor. phrase is never suggested by any lexicon that I am aware of, since it would support the mythicist interpretation.’
    When I asked you if you believed all the lexicons (note ‘lexicons’), were biased, you said yes.
    * ‘Of course they are biased, but please don’t turn around and accuse me of saying that there is an active and conscious “conspiracy” going on’
    So we can see that this was always about your rejection of the lexicons, and your claim that the lexicons are biased. I asked for evidence that the lexicons were biased. You gave me one single example of lexical bias (in your view), from Bauer. You then changed the subject to translations. I agreed with you that there is a lot of bias in translations, but I also pointed out to you that this was not the subject at hand.
    One single example of bias from Bauer, even if it is valid, is insufficient to prove your claim that  the entire field of professional Greek lexicography is biased to the extent that word definitions and meanings are selected on the basis of a preconceived belief in a historical Jesus is an extraordinary claim indeed, and certainly requires extraordinary evidence.
    I asked for the extraordinary evidence necessary for your extraordinary claim that the entire field of professional Greek lexicography is biased to the extent that word definitions and meanings are selected on the basis of a preconceived belief in a historical Jesus. One single example from one lexicographer in one lexicon, is not ‘extraordinary evidence’. I’m not interested in examples of bias from commentators and translators (whom I have already agreed are frequently biased), I’m asking for examples from lexicographers, in the standard professional lexicons.
    I have never claimed or implied you believe the entire discipline of lexicography ‘is rotten to the core and never got anything right’. On the contrary, I pointed out that you reject professional lexicography when it disagrees with you, and accept it when it agrees with you. What I did was ask you if you believe that the entire field of professional Greek lexicography is biased to the extent that word definitions and meanings are selected on the basis of a preconceived belief in a historical Jesus is an extraordinary claim indeed, and certainly requires extraordinary evidence. To this question, you answered ‘Of course’.
    No I am not consigning critical scholarship to the wilderness for any reason at all. Critical scholarship is just fine.  Nor am I claiming that text critics always get everything right, nor am I claiming that ‘if the former disagree with the latter, they are automatically wrong and deserve condemnation’.
    Yes I reject the view that this passage (in 1 Thessalonians), is an interpolation. No, I don’t reject any though thtat the Pastorals are not by Paul.
    //Grammar is grammar. Grammar is not context, at least not in any sense that I have ever encountered in NT scholarship. Grammar can also be notoriously ambiguous, and maddeningly common…//
     
    This is not in dispute.
    //Your argument is based on word order???//
    Word order, grammar, and context.
    //The question is, does the way he did put it rule out my meaning and require yours? It does not.//
    I’m not claiming your reading is necessarily ruled out. It’s just not the natural reading, or the most likely.
    //The word for what he “received” is “parelabon”, from “paralambano. Look at Galatians 1:12 (this, by the way, is “context”).//
    A verse in a completely different book, written to a completely different audience, at a completely different time, by what may or may not have been the same author, is not ‘context’. At best it is a co-text. All you are doing is saying ‘Paul used parelabon in Galatians 1:12 with the meaning X, so he must have used it with the same meaning in 1 Corinthians 15:3′. That is a logical fallacy, a non sequitur.
    //Look at 1 Cor. 11:23. “I received [parelabon] from the Lord…” i.e., the words he is about to quote. This is a clear reference to revelation, like the one in Galatians. Yet despite this “context” for Paul’s usage of this verb, you refuse to consider the likelihood that Paul, to be consistent, must be referring in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 to a source of revelation, namely the scriptures.//
    The ‘I received from the Lord’ in 1 Corinthians 11:23 is not the context of ‘kata tas graphas’ in 1 Corinthians 15:3. The context of ‘kata graphas’ in 1 Corinthians 15:3 is (unsurprisingly), 1 Corinthians 15:3. I see no reason to read ‘kata tas graphas’ in 1 Corinthians 15:3 as if it were in a completely different verse in a completely different section of the book, in a completely different chapter. There is no ‘recieved from the Lord’ in 1 Corinthians 15:3, so why would I read it into the verse?
    //Oughtn’t these diachronic and synchronic methods you advocate lead us to conclude a meaning for “parelabon” in 1 Cor. 15:3-4 which conforms to the “lexical range of the term”?//
    Indeed. And so they do.
    //Can you point to a single instance in the “lexical range of the term” in the epistles which conforms to your alternative? Does anyone ever use “kata tas graphas” or even words to that effect to mean “as prophesied [about Christ] in the scriptures”? //
    Careful, the lexical meaning I’m asserting for ‘kata tas graphas’ in this passage is ‘according to’, not ‘as prophesied’; a decision for ‘as prophesied’ is a  matter of translation in context,  which comes after lexcial considerations have been made (and here of course I defer to the scholarly consensus). I’ve already provided you with a number of examples of precisely this use of ‘kata tas graphas’, both diachronic and synchronic. I note you didn’t comment on any of them. Neither Romans 1:2; 16:25-26, Galatians 3:8, nor James 2:8 say anything about Paul receiving his understanding of Jesus ‘from the holy writings’. As you note yourself, Romans 1:2 speaks of the gospel as found in the ‘holy writings’, Romans 16:25-26 speaks of the role of Jesus Christ in the process of salvation, Galatians 3:8 says that God preached the gospel to Abraham ahead of time, and Galatians 3:22 speaks of the results of faith in Christ Jesus.
    //Jonathan, there is not a single case in the epistles, employing no matter what terms and phrases, where we can tell that scripture is regarded as having prophesied the words and deeds of Jesus on earth.//
    Well that’s clearly your opinion. What we find is despite your claims to the contrary, you have not provided a single example of the phrase ‘κατὰ τὰς γραφὰς’ meaning ‘as [I have] learned from the Scriptures’, or ‘as the Scriptures have revealed [to me]‘.
     
    //But are you not in the position that you have not provided a single example of the phrase, or any other phrase in the epistles, as entailing the idea of scripture prophesying the earthly acts of Jesus?//
    If you had read what I wrote, you would have seen that the meaning I’m asserting for ‘kata tas graphas’ in this passage is ‘according to’, not ‘as prophesied’. I’ve already provided you with a number of examples of precisely this use of ‘kata tas graphas’, both diachronic and synchronic. I note you didn’t comment on any of them.
    //Your examples from the LXX are irrelevant.//
    No they’re not. I provided them as examples of ‘kata tas graphas’ meaning ‘according to’. That’s what they mean. Do you want to dispute this?
    //The word order in 1 Cor. 15:3 is immaterial.//
    The word order is immaterial. I see.
    //And I did not misrepresent Bauer by leaving out material that was irrelevant to my point, which was that the phrase could have the meaning of “as we learn from…”, which quoting Bauer’s reference to Pausanias amply demonstrated (and I’m glad you admitted that).//
    You certainly did misrepresent Bauer. The material you missed out demonstrated how Bauer understood ‘kata tas graphas’ in 1 Corinthians 15:3. And please take care with what I said; I acknowledged that the pasasage from Pausanias could be read with the meaning ‘as we learn from’, but I also pointed out that the phrase here is not the same phrase as we find in 1 Corinthians 15:3, I also pointed out that Bauer does not actually render the phrase in Pausanias with ‘as we learn from’, I also pointed out that Bauer does not identify the phrase in Pausanias as equivalent in menaing to the phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:3, and I also pointed out that when it comes to the phrase in 1 Corinthians 15:3 Bauer actually renders it like this in the entry under γραφή.
    * ‘according to (the prophecy of) the holy scriptures 1 Cor 15:3f (Just., D. 82, 4)’
    Note of course the complete absence of any reference to Pausanias.

    • http://vridar.wordpress.com Neil Godfrey

      Burke has posted this on the wrong thread.

  • Jonathan Burke

    I’m sure he’ll find it.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Michael-Wilson/1355591760 Michael Wilson

    Neil, thank you for clarifying your position with your post. You ought not to think that was a challenge, but if it helps you sleep better at night to think that I maintain that that there is no relationship between the Gospels and Midrash, I doubt I will be able to convince you otherwise, but do feel I should say in regards to,
    Neil, “Mike Wilson took a breather from calling me an A1 creep and sub-par person on ExploringOurMatrix to suggest that I could not establish any relationship between the Gospels and midrash, let alone that midrash can explain most of the gospel material.”
    The suggestion is all in your head. 
    Neil, “So now you are saying I have not proved anything to meet your initial challenge?”
     
    I’m not sure of the wisdom of defining all Biblical allusions, interpretations, and such (the existence of which is not denied by any researcher I have heard of, not that they aren’t nuts out there) as midrash.  More importantly is the question of the material in the Gospels being derived from interpretations of Biblical material.  Neil: “The Elijah-Elisha cycle as been seen by some scholars as backbone to the the main pre-passion narrative of Mark”. Yes, some scholars say all sorts of things.  I would invite interested readers to search your site for your presentation of this theory to see that it is quite a stretch to say this could account for much of the material in Mark. 
     
    In regards to the birth narrative, I do agree that some of the “facts” are derived from scriptural interpretation. But even here, there is a limit to prospect of any sort of Midrash of scripture here.  For instance the Magnificat of Luke 1:46 echoes Hannah’s song In 1 Sam 2 but I would be hesitant to call any such interrelationship in musical numbers “midrash” on the original. On the virgin birth, I have to note that Luke has this factoid as well but mentions no prophecy to support it as Matthew does. It is a common part of miraculous births from around the world, and thus I doubt that it was inspired by the verse Matthew sites.  I think it more likely that the verse was used to make the supposed virgin birth biblically foretold.  Again, I hesitate to call this midrash, as it is a lot like the still common practice of finding verses that seem to refer to some contemporary event and say that it is a prophecy, like the craze of a few decades back of saying the Ezekiel “Gog and Magog” prophecy referred to the U.S.S.R. And even if you do think of this as midrash, it does not imply that the referent is derived from the Bible.  This principle is demonstrated in your post with the midrash concerning Bar Kochba. Clearly Bar Kochba is not derived from interpreting the Old Testament, not would think tales of his feats with catapults, or his men’s feats with Lebanon cedars be derived from Biblical interpretation. 
     
    A better example would be the belief he was born in Bethlehem. There is a good reason for thinking this was a biblically inspired part of the Jesus legend, and not based on historical circumstance or non-biblical folklore. Perhaps also the flight to Egypt may be seen as a biblically inspired and the star as well.  Mind you the Birth narratives are among the most clearly fictitious accounts of the Gospels. The rest turns up far fewer possibilities for Biblically derived “fact.”
     
     Of course we are still a long way from saying that all or most of the material in the Gospels was derived this way and it doesn’t justify calling the gospels midrash any more than Daniel is midrash or the Acts of Peter.  While you did, as always, put a lot of work into this, is far off the mark for supporting your contentions to a degree that even I find surprising.


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